It is a thin line that separates mysticism and humanism in Kabir's poetry, but it has a broad spectrum of dedicated followers, from the homesteads of the common man to the large satsangs and universities. Traversing all these terrains is the Kabir panthi Prahlad Tipaniya of Lunyakheda from the Malwa region in Madhya Pradesh. Since 1982, he has been crisscrossing the country presenting the democratic, introspective and the devotional Kabir through the poetry and music of this poet of humanism. In Thiruvananthapuram for a performance that ran parallel to the screening of the documentary series on Kabir by Shabnam Virmani, the Kabir panthi spoke of his continuous journey with the philosophy of the poet.
Attraction for Kabir
My early childhood years were spent in Manpur, near Indore. It was at a jagran that I first heard and saw the tanpura. The timbre of its music appealed and I shifted residence to Gorkhadi to learn the tanpura. And call it destiny, my Guru told me: “If you learn to sing along with the tanpura, you will pick up both in a shorter span of time.” The first verse that I began my training in was by Kabir. Fine tuning my voice with the tanpura also gave me the time to understand the depth of the verse. That set off my desire to understand his poetry. Here I found not just verses for bhajans but the philosophy of life's existence conveyed through very simple thought-provoking verses.
Reaching Kabir to the common man
In 1981, I received diksha into the Kabir sect and reached out to the people not merely through bhajans, but also by associating with groups such as Eklavya, which opened avenues for discussions that enlarged the total scope of understanding Kabir in the present times. He did not stand for any abstract, high philosophy, but was rooted in the here and now of life. Erasing the boundaries between man and man based on caste, community and religion was the essence of Kabir. Turn the mirror inwards, he said, in ever so many ways, exhorting man to introspect and seek the Supreme within his own self.
Taking Kabir to the West
In 2003, Linda Hess from Stanford University came to Lunyakheda and spent a year in our midst, because she was researching on Kabir. On her return, she commenced a project to introduce Kabir's philosophy through his verses and music. This paved the way for my performing at the Stanford University before an august gathering and then a two-and-a-half month tour to other centres. During the course of this tour, Linda ji accompanied me and provided the translation and commentary for every verse I rendered. Now, the United States is on my itinerary every year. For many, it was something they were experiencing for the first time.
Journeying with Kabir to Pakistan
Kabir is an icon of the brotherhood of man. When I went there during the World Social Forum in 2006, I was like any Indian carrying the preconceived notion of the hostile neighbour, but the warmth and affection I received only confirmed what Kabir has said in so many different ways: wipe away those differences between man and man. That the verses of Kabir transcend the divide created by ambitious, avaricious politicians was once again proved when Fareed Eyaz Qawal and Shafi Fakeer from Pakistan sang Kabir's verses.
On becoming a ‘mahant' among the Kabir panthis
When satsangs are held, there is a mahant who presides over the proceedings and generally conducts affairs in the community. Even though I was given the ‘status,' I did not accept those markers of a mahant's position, such as occupying an elevated seat, making people wash my feet, receiving donations from people who attend my bhajans, or receiving anything in cash or kind. I consider myself one among them. The moment I consider myself above the others, I am in reality going against the core of universal brotherhood as hailed by Kabir.
Between a schoolteacher and Kabirpanthi, which calling has a greater pull
As the headmaster of the middle school in Kanasia, I have a responsibility to the young generation. They are at the crossroads where the world that beckons calls for the ability to discern. Assimilating technology alone cannot be the answer; they need to be equipped with emotional skills to balance personal growth with career growth. This can be achieved with the guidance they will get in a very unobtrusive manner by understanding Kabir. That is where I have a major responsibility – to mould them into individuals who have the skill to strike the right balance – to handle material success with emotional strength.