The 2002 Godhra riots gave birth to bloodlust, mayhem and,strangely, a project of peace — the Kabir Project. The movement utilises films, concerts et al, to spread the word of the mystic poet through the voices of some of the country’s most prolific bards. The belief is that in these desperate times, one needs to heed his words more than ever before. The Kabir Festival, a celebration of Kabir’s words and his life, is an offshoot of this movement. In its third installment in Mumbai, it traverses across 15 different venues in the city.
“After I attended Kabir Festivals in different parts of India, I felt Mumbai could do with something like this,” says the affable Priti Turakhia, co-director, Mumbai Kabir Festival. She believes Kabir’s words are more relevant now than ever. “What Kabir said resonates today, too. The nature of man has not changed nor have the problems in society.”
Her belief is echoed by Prahlad Singh Tipaniya. Prahladji, as he is fondly known, can be considered the headlining act in the festival. Born to a dalit family in Malwam, Rajasthan, Prahladji’s rendition of Kabir bhajans have mesmerised people the world over. “Kabir sahib’s words can transform people. In the past, I have performed to members of the khanjarzat community (notorious for their criminal background) across Madhya Pradesh. Many of them embraced Kabir sahib’s words to the extent of not only giving up arms, but also any form of intoxication they indulged in in the past. I really hope that our performances at this festival bring about a similar change,” he says.
Some of the unique performances at this year’s Kabir Festival include popular Delhi-based Dastangos Ankit Chadha and Ashish Paliwal. Wandering minstrels Lakshman Das and Parvathy Baul will perform Bengali folk songs inspired by the words of Kabir. Also new to the festival this year are the singers Bindhumalini and Vedanth. Trained in Carnatic and Hindustani Classical music, the duo gives traditional classical and folk renderings of Kabir and other saint poets a blues-y strain.
These performances will be punctuated by four documentary films, which explore the many voices of Kabir in contemporary India. The films have been shot by Shabnam Virmani, the director of the Kabir Project in Bangalore.
Busting the myth of Kabir’s poetry being nothing more than school textbook fodder will certainly be a challenge. But Turakhia is confident the unique format of the festival will make the poet’s works much more relevant to Mumbaiites. “We wish to articulate Kabir’s works to the urban populace by adding a bit of rock, having young musicians trained in classical Indian music mix their music with blues and jazz styles and through storytelling sessions for children. But incredibly enough, our mainstay will be the folk music and I can guarantee you this that most people will be on their feet within an hour of their performance,” she concludes.