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Soul searching through music

It was Mahesh Babu’s childhood dream to establish a place where music could be celebrated as an art form. Growing up in the land of the Nizams, Babu was always enamoured by the deep-rooted Hyderabadi culture.

“I watched a lot of Sufi music acts as a child and both classical and folk music interested me,” Babu tells us over the phone.


Mohammad Farghaly, a folk musician from Egypt

So, in 2000, the 50 year-old music enthusiast established Ruhaniyat, a Sufi and mystic music and film festival that brings together the immortal works of great artistes that are mostly unheard of in a metropolitan city like Mumbai. Babu explains, “We are constantly on the lookout for artistes


A group of qawwals, the Nizami Bandhu, headed by Chand Nizami (centre)

who carry distinct traditions and flavours associated with their music from different parts of the country.” Ruhaniyat will bring together around 60 Indian and international folk artistes to perform in Mumbai. Babu’s wife Nandini Mahesh, who he cites as his biggest support, does everything from organising the events to checking the programme timings with the artists.

The duo personally goes to remote villages in search of groups who will form the basis of the festival. Babu adds, “We travel to the interiors of India and abroad in search of distinct musicians. The talent found in these people is par excellence. Most of them are so modest about their art that we have to prod them to come out of their shell.”

The key performers of the gala include a Qawwal called Nizami Bandhu, headed by Chand Nizami from Delhi. “I have been associated with Ruhaniyat for three years. It has been a beautiful journey so far. This year in Mumbai, our group is going to perform special qawwalis inspired by Amir Khusro’s shayari,” says Nizami. The other group, Kapalik Padvani, from Chattisgarh, is going to perform a dramatic narration of mystic tales from the Mahabharata.

Getting so many acclaimed performers together is an ambitious feat. Until they received a sponsorship in 2003, the duo was funding the festival themselves. Babu reveals that Mumbai has always welcomed the annual Ruhaniyat festival and is just as excited now as he was when the fest was first being hosted here. “Mumbai has been very special to me as this is where I started the festival,” he concludes.

Ruhaniyat’s highlights
>> The Indian forms that are going to be featured this year are Bharud and Abhang of Tukaram, Dyaneshwar, Jana Bai and
Bahina Bai
>> The highlight this year is the fact that the festival is travelling to Raipur and Ahmedabad as well as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune
and Bengaluru
>> It includes performances by the best of qawwals from Nizammuddin Dargah. The other international artistes include Vaya Quartet’s from Bulgaria, Whirling Dervishes from Sema in Turkey, Sufiana Maquam Ensemble from Egypt and Farid Ayaz and a group from Pakistan 

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