Kabir as a Songster

With the aim of opening up minds in Varanasi and revisiting the works of their own homegrown ancient poet, the Mahindra Kabira Festival has truly re-introduced Kabir to the world

Kabir as a Songster
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Sahar Zaman

Growing up and living in Varanasi can tend to tune your senses to better appreciate the nuances of classical music and the arts. Just as the cycle of life and death plays day in and day out on the ghats, there is as much of a never-ending cycle of having the best and most sought-after artists seeking to perform on the sacred ghats. And this abundance of performances can make any resident of Varanasi blasé about music and the arts. This makes it doubly challenging to bring a new festival to the ghats, especially when it’s about the life and lessons of Kabir — an ascetic who is far too familiar to the people of this ancient city.

The three-day Mahindra Kabira Festival in Varanasi is in its fourth year. The town where Kabir found his raison d’etre and which continues to influence seekers of peace, seekers of meaning and devotion and even backpackers who just want to tick a place on their bucket list.

For someone who belongs to this city and was also the local producer of this festival, Gaurav Kapoor says: “It’s the coming together of so many artists from around the world, including ones from Banaras. Feels like there is Kabir everywhere in the world and it culminates on the ghats of Varanasi to help spread his message of love for all, through the Mahindra Kabira Festival.”

The essence of Kabir’s discourse is that it never judges who you are and what you should become. You are accomplished to begin with but should keep seeking your truth. There is no single Kabir to reminisce or discover for us. There’s a Kabir to touch every aspect of your life, irrespective where you are coming from or where you are feeling stuck.

For someone who belongs to this city and was also the local producer of this festival, Gaurav Kapoor says: “It’s the coming together of so many artists from around the world, including ones from Banaras. Feels like there is Kabir everywhere in the world and it culminates on the ghats of Varanasi to help spread his message of love for all, through the Mahindra Kabira Festival.”

The essence of Kabir’s discourse is that it never judges who you are and what you should become. You are accomplished to begin with but should keep seeking your truth. There is no single Kabir to reminisce or discover for us. There’s a Kabir to touch every aspect of your life, irrespective where you are coming from or where you are feeling stuck.

Music does perhaps become the biggest propagator of Kabir’s thoughts, as was evident in this festival. A young boy band that has shot up to fame by only exclusively singing Kabir, Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café has done 900 concerts in six years and they’re still counting.

“We’re using music as a medium so that we can reach out to all age-groups because most people nowadays use the internet to listen to music. So we’re sending out Kabir’s message to the world which is very relevant to the world today,” says Poubuanpou Britto of Kabir Café.

Music does perhaps become the biggest propagator of Kabir’s thoughts, as was evident in this festival. A young boy band that has shot up to fame by only exclusively singing Kabir, Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café has done 900 concerts in six years and they’re still counting.

“We’re using music as a medium so that we can reach out to all age-groups because most people nowadays use the internet to listen to music. So we’re sending out Kabir’s message to the world which is very relevant to the world today,” says Poubuanpou Britto of Kabir Café.

“The minute you leave behind your city, you come on to the river. The experience for the collective audience or the collective consciousness is completely different and that in many ways is what creates the magic of the Festival,” says Sanjoy K. Roy, the man whose brainchild the Mahindra Kabira Festival is. Roy is also one of the founders of the super-successful international Jaipur Literature Festival.

The mornings ring in with the gentle sounds of the santoor and bansuri in the backdrop of a blushing sky and rising sun waking up the river and the city. The afternoons are testimonials of Kabir’s impact on the lives of artists, performers, researchers. And under the night sky, sprinkled with some international and indie pop, we realise each of us have our individual Kabir legacy that we carry within us perhaps unknowingly.

How young we start with Kabir, how early he appeals to us came through a sweet rendition of Kabir by students of Delhi Public School and Sunbeam School in Varanasi.

(The writer is an independent political newscaster, events curator and artist)

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