Thursday, February 28, 2008


Attended the 7th Ruhaniyat festival of Sufi and Mystic Music. It was the finale of the entire series, which ended in Pune. I had been awaiting this event for months, having heard of it from a friend, and once there, I was not disappointed, luckily. I say 'luckily' because I have often eagerly looked forward to some event, and when it does take place eventually, it leaves a taste of tad disappointment.

Well, anyway, the Ruhaniyat (which means 'soulfulness') is a wonderful example of encouraging and sharing music from all over India, and now, the world too. One is exposed to different kinds of music, musicians, instruments and sounds. And if you close your eyes, like the lady in front of us was doing, or move your body to the beat of the music, like me, you would be taken to another realm far away from here, where your senses no longer differentiate the sex or the caste/religion of the person who's singing or playing, but they (your senses) mingle as if this music is their own, taken from your own soul. Heavenly will be a small word for this feeling.

Ruhaniyat began with the traditional artisans of Maharashtra, locals for people of Pune. The group of
Varkaris* led by Chandrakant Udawant from Satara, sang Abhangs - devotional songs of Lord Vithhal in the traditional language of Marathi. He started off with 'Jaya jaya ramkrishna hari', went on to sing 'Roop pahata lochani', a kirtan and concluded with an Abhang of Saint Tukaram.

[* Varkaris = The Varkari sampraday (religious movement) is so called because the followers travel hundreds of miles to the holy town of Pandharpur on foot, every year on the Ekadashi (11th day by lunar calendar) in the Hindu calendar month of Ashad (sometime in July). A pilgrimage is also made on Kartik Ekadashi (which falls sometime in November). This pilgrimage is called vari in the Marathi language and thus one who performs it in the 'Bhapath of devotion is a varkari. The Varkari tradition has made all-pervading impact on the life of the common people of Maharashtra for six hundred years (from 13th century to 18th century). The Varkari has looked upon God as the Ultimate Truth and has ascertained grades of values in social life The sect has accepted ultimate equality among men. It lays stress on values such as individual sacrifice, forgiveness, simplicity, overcoming passions, peaceful co-existence, compassion, non-violence, love, humility in social life. The last point is illustrated by Varkaris prostrating in front of each other because everybody is "Brahma". ]The Varkaris were followed a troupe led by Hafeeza Begum from Assam. And they sang Sufi songs, which sounded real sweet after the initial 'harshness' of songs of the Marathis. And what was extremely beautiful was the sound of the flute, lilting up amidst the silence. And accompanying the songs at times, was just the sound of fingers clicking and hands clapping. This performance was in some way poetic because of its simplicity and lovely melody.

Latif Bolat (the above two snaps) from Turkey played the traditional Turkish stringed instrument "baglama." He sang some traditional Turkish compositions and recited poems too. I must admit I did not understand a word, nor realised when one composition began or ended as he was playing continuosly. But for the compere, Nandini Mahesh's wonderful translations and talks in between, I would've been lost.

I must talk of the compere here too. She introduced the musicians with some wonderful poetic lines of her own, while translating their works. For example, " A life is like a house... it grows, withers and collapses, with time." She also gave a brief introduction to each of the musicians. When it was time of the Manganiyars* from Rajasthan to play, Nandini also talked about their instruments to a small story of Rani Bhatiyani, who has blessed this community to always be the best musicians as long as their community survives. The music of the Manganiyars borders on the classical with a touch of Sufism. The singers have mastery in playing various instruments like Khamaycha (the bowl-shaped, short-necked bowed lute), Murli (a big flute), Surnai (big bass flute), the Afgoza (double flute), the Morchhang (Jewish harp) and the Kartaal (The kartaal comprises two pairs of concussion plaques, one pair held in each hand. The playing technique is extremely virtuosic and involves very rapid, castanet-like rhythms.)
The Khamaycha can be played only by the Manganiyars, and we were lucky to have with us on stage, one of the most respected and senior members of the Manganiyars - Chanan Khan- who was playing the Khamaycha (the man on the left of the singer).
He was also requested to sing part of the Rani Bhatiyani story, who committed Sati for her true love, the brother of her husband.

*A small community in neighbouring Rajasthan presents an example of communal bonhomie. The Manganiyars, a singers community from western Rajasthan, are Muslims by birth but are closely linked for generations to both Muslims and Hindu families for their livelihood. Whatever be the occasion at their jajmaan's house, the Manganiyars are there with appropriate song and music, greatly influenced by Sindhi sufi pirs, singing mystical verses and invoking the Hindu gods. Be it a wedding, a birth in the family, a change of season, a festival or even celebrating the valour of the warriors, the Manganiyars are called to compose and sing for which they are paid handsomely though in different ways. Their songs describe the life of the people of the land.

The Rajasthanis played in two parts. The first was a Hindu type of music, with Mahesaram as the main singer. Then after the break, they came back with Sawan Khan as the main singer. If you notice the man on the extreme left, in the second part he plays the Kartaal and look at him move!

But the person who I was totally mesmerised by was Parvathy Baul. She hails from West Bengal and is an 'initiated' Baul and one of the very few women Bauls*, as was disclosed by Nandini. Parvathy seemed this relatively young and a petite, energetic woman who I felt was completely unfettered in her singing. It was as if she and the music were really one, and the melody sprang from her soul. All the previous musicians and singers, to me, seemed formal by way of their 'education in music'. But Parvathy seemed like a natural. It was as if she was born to sing and didn't know what else to do. She played the ektara (one-stringed Baul instrument), duggi (clay drum) and wore the nupur (anklet) that sounded like bells. And with her high voice that never needed a mike, saffron robes and singing and dancing, she seemed like Meera conversing with the Lord Krishna, so into her music she was.

*Bauls (Bengali: বাউল) are a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal, which comprises Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. Bauls constitute both a syncretic religious sect and a musical tradition used as a vehicle to express Baul thought. Bauls are a very heterogeneous group, with many different streams to the sect, but their membership mainly consists of Vaisnavite Hindus and Sufi Muslims.They can be often identified by their distinctive clothes and musical instruments, like the ektara. Though Bauls comprise only a small fraction of the Bengali population, their influence on the culture of Bengal is considerable. In 2005, the Baul tradition was included in the list of "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO. The origin of the word is Baul is debated. It has been suggested that it comes either from Sanskrit batul, meaning divinely inspired insanity or byakul, meaning fervently eager.

Parvathy sang three songs. All wonderful. The first song was on the bird Chatak*, which is Lalan Fakir's song Chatak swabhav ni hole- the Chatak never changes, followed by Apon mukher phook- a lovely song, and Kaala - a description of Radha's last thought as she walks towards Yamuna.

* Chatak- A bird that drinks only raindrops, and even though there is water nearby, it will not drink anything else. Sometimes the clouds play truant with it, and it thinks its going to rain and is ecstatic. Then even upon realising there is no rain, it won't drinkanything but rain-water, even though its throat is burning with thirst.
A Sufiana Kalam- 'Maine teri aaakhon mein pada Allah hi Allah, Sab bhool gaya bas yaad raha sirf Allah hi Allah' by renowned singer, Vitthal Rao from Hyderabad was a sheer delight to hear, especially given the fact that this man is all of seventy-nine years of age. And had a powerful voice as compared to his disciple.

The finale came from the Sabri Brothers of Jaipur, one of the topmost Qawwals in India. They sang a Sufi qawwali, 'Tu malik hai' and Amir Khusrau's 'Aaj rang ma'. Some of the words of the first composition were, "Prabhu nahi mujhe koi gyan tumhara; Mujhe to ek hi dhyaan hai...voh hai tumhara"... Simply delightful!

Looking forward to the next Ruhaniyat!


Menagerie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Menagerie said...

wow! I totally envy you! It seems like an evening to be remembered for a lifetime!

hope to catch it one of these years :)

hows life with you otherwise?

Treenz said...


Found your blog via Shilpa's.
Like reading your blog- it's very interesting. Sorry for gate crashing :)


shikha said...

HI there...came here after very long:) and am love the new look...will return to read more and i liked the photographs in the previous do have "the eys".

Φ said...

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Raghav said...

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Menagerie said...

where art thou my friend?

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