The folk forms at the ‘Ruhaniyat’ festival were an unforgettable experience.

Melodic lines and mystic poetry drifted into the cool air at the sprawling lawns of the Tollygunge Club, Kolkata, which was a journey into the world of Sufi and Mystic Music called ‘Ruhaniyat,’ organised by Banyan Tree. The Ruhaniyat platform brings in each year and in each city, hidden talent and neglected near-extinct traditional folk forms from the world over.

The festival in Kolkata, in its sixth year, featured four groups from the country and star attractions, Vaya Quartet from Bulgaria and dancing Dervishes from Egypt.

Thirty two year old Avadhoot Gandhi, who belongs to the family of priests from Shree Narsingh Saraswati Swami Mandir, and his group presented Bharud and Abhang beginning the evening with Sant Tukaram’s composition, ‘O Tupasey Chirato,’ accompanied by cymbals, duff or dhapli, sarangi and harmonium. His clear-throated rendition spoke of trained vocals that gave the song, in a large measure, its character and amplitude.

Once an integral part of every villager’s life, Bharud has stepped out of its boundaries and helps one to attain spiritual upliftment.

‘Gondhal’ in praise of Lord Vitthal is sung to bless newly weds. ‘Gondhal’ means confusion, used as a metaphor but the songs are spiritually-oriented depicting ‘I, You, Me to Us,’ with an interplay of mystic love, pathos and melody.

The rhythmic Abhang, ‘Anadi Ambika Bhagawati Gundara Yadi Ho Jagadamba,’ was followed by the seldom heard Fatka, ‘Ja Ja Ja Ja Jhhatka Re’ in a ‘Duffgaan’ style (devotional music accompanied by a duff or dhapli), an amazing impactful number using numerals in its musical phrases with fun-filled lyrics complete with ‘Ohori Ohori Oh’ by Sant Eknath, sung to attain the path to salvation. Their concluding ‘Alakh Niranjan’ by Ramdas Swami, complete with the blowing of the conch shell, was steeped in mystic richness and the most meaningful and soul-stirring number of the evening.

Semi-nomad bards

Mystic Ravanhatta Ensemble led by Sugunaram from the deserts of Rajasthan had four ‘Bhopas’ (bards who are semi nomads) with the stringed instrument, tamancha, and a scroll-painting termed ‘Padh,’ which is their temple. The Padh, which is passed down through generations, is treated with reverence. Stories of Kings and their bravery, which move with the geographical location, are written on it in a unique way. With the Padh in the background, Sugunaram wearing ghungroos (ankle bells) danced in a swaying motion while playing the tamancha and sang, a high-pitched, continuous linear tune, about the multi-layered stories of generosity and bravery of Bapuji - whose mother was ‘Kesarpari’ (fairy) - to the beats of nagada.

A renowned Udh player from Egypt, Mohamad Farghaly, with his son Hamada on the Quanoon (a stringed santoor-like instrument), presented a short duet followed by a sawaal jawaab with the musicians of Rajasthan in an entertaining recital.

Parvaty Baul, an initiated Baul from Bengal, has been at every Ruhaniyat festival from its very inception. Her soulful numbers of Hare Gosai’s ‘Ananda Bajarey Chal Re Mon,’ Govindadas’s ‘Aamar Bhitor Ami Ke’ and Bhavapagla’s ‘Jiban Nadir Kuley

Kuley,’ accompanied by her jumping and dancing with an ektara and duggi, are always popular.

The distinctive sounds of women’s choir came from Vaya Quartet. Dressed in spectacular national costume, and head bedecked with flowers, four young, Bulgarian singers, Marina Stefanova, Sonya Georgieva, Illiana Tabor and Gergana Georgieva from Plovdev, stunned the listeners with their elegance and purity of polyphonic melody, which came together as a harmonious whole. Glides and glissandos were dissolved into stretching melodies in their famous ‘Rado,’ with ‘Snoshti Stanah,’ a folkloristic song of a man for whom people are praying as he is suffering from a mysterious illness. Embellished with sounds such as ‘tum tum’ and tweets of birds, the song was intriguing. The last number described the five steps of wine making and had only syllables which signify celebration. That music transcends all barriers was proved in the polyphonic recital of Vaya Quartet.

But the best performance of the festival was the Egyptian Sufi Folk dance called Tannoura by the Dancing Dervishes. Two brilliant male dancers, Mustafa Hussain and Mehmood Yah Yah, with multilayered, colourful, heavy skirts moved nonstop for 30 minutes in circular motions to the soul-stirring music by Ali Ismail (composed half a century ago) and finally walked through the audience, revolving a layer of the huge skirt over their heads with the fingers. It was an unforgettable experience, where spiritual sparks dwelt on the revolution of the skirts as the dancers performed in perfect harmony.

The central theme was revolving as everything in the Universe is revolving and a lot of symbolism was used. When they untied their skirts, it was eliminating false ego and while submerging their heads in the skirt, it was total submission. A beautiful piece was mother and child in which a layer of the skirt was folded as a baby, which symbolised praying to the Divine for protection. The item of rotating the respective flags of India and Egypt earned loud applause.

The evening concluded with a Sufi Qawwali by Timmu Gulfam and group from Jaipur , performing for the first time at the Ruhaniyat.