Friday Review

Kabir, once more!

DELINEATING THE VERES Prahlad Singh Tipanya in performance  

At the first glance, Prahlad Singh Tipanya looks like an ordinary villager clad in dhoti, kurta and a colourful pagdi, the head gear, but his captivating Kabir-Gayan shakes you awake of your slumber. Listeners are transported to a divine spiritual realm, where the simple lyrical verses of Kabir answer the most complex spiritual questions. It was the first edition of the Mahindra Kabira Festival set against the serene backdrop of the sacred Ganga at Kabir’s birth-place Varanasi, that brought this opportunity to meet Prahlad Singh Tipanya.

His true voice, devoid of superfluous frills, is the perfect tool to elaborate the bitter truth so candidly spoken by Kabir in his verses, his sakhis and ulatbansis, the paradoxes. Tipanya goes on explaining the meaning of each verse as he sings accompanied with his group of folk singers that play the folk instruments like the dhol, manjira, timpani et al. Tipanya is, in fact, not a performer but a real devotee of Kabir, living his philosophy in his day-to-day life.

Prahlad Singh Tipanya believes that the vachik parampara or the oral tradition of our country has, for centuries, preserved and propagated the values preached by our saint poets like Kabir, Nanak and others. A staunch believer in the ideology of Kabir, Tipanya has also got it through this oral tradition. He tries to explain, it as a vidya which has to be experienced, not taught. Kabir has emphasised upon your own experience, the “ankhon dekhi”, not the ‘kagaz ki lekhi’ not the written words. Once you experience it, you become the ‘sakshi’ (witness) of that truth. Kabir’s ‘saakhis are this very ‘sakshi’, the essence of his own experience. Your own experience is, in fact, universal. It is beyond religion, caste, creed, gender, or colour of skin.

Sharing the story of his own journey into it, Tipanya confesses, “I have not read any shastras, (treatise), whatever little bit I know, has come to me by chance as a ‘ghatana’, a happening in my own life.” Born in a small village named Luna Khedi in Malwa, Tipanya never knew Kabir except for Kabir’s sakhis that were prescribed in his course in the school textbook. “I read them just for passing exams. The turn came when by chance I came across a Kabir-Bani singer who played tambura and sang. The ‘naad’ (sound of the tambura) hit me at the core of my heart and that changed me and my life. Eager to learn this instrument, I went to his village but the Kabir-Panthi singer said if you sing along, you will learn faster, how to play it. Once I started singing Kabir, it gradually transformed me.”

The melodious strumming of tambura provides both, the basic melody and the rhythm for Tipanya to sing the Kabir Bani. About the instrument he explains, “The ‘naad’ is inside each one of us. Our body itself is a tambura which was also called the ‘Gaatra-Veena’. And we all know that our body comprises the panch tatvas, (the five elements) – “kshiti, jal, pavak, gagan, sameera”. Now see, the normal tanpura has four strings but this tambura has five, symbolising the ‘panch-tattva’ the five elements. The middle three strings represent the three gunas, the sattva, rajas and the tamo-guna. If these three gunas are balanced, we are above all the ill feelings like ‘raga, dwesh, kama, krodh, etc. The first string of tambura is called Ragini and the last ‘Chikara’.”

Tipanya has not studied music as a subject so he has no knowledge of music theory. He doesn’t even know the name of the swaras, to which these five strings are tuned to. But he tunes them pitch perfect just by his ‘ears’, listening to the tune. He takes care to check the swara of the dholak and even the manjeera, before he starts singing. Even the in between explaining of the text, never deters him from the tonic. His complete tunefulness, I believe, does the magic of mesmerising his listeners.

A teacher by profession, Tipanya is deep into the ideologies and philosophy of Kabir. He has been organising a five-day Kabir Utsav’ for the past 20 years under the ‘Sadguru Kabir Smarak Seva Samiti’ that he founded long back to involve the villagers with the values preached by Kabir. The five-day long Kabir festival is a travelling festival with changing venues starting with his own village, he explains. Different people host it by turn and the Mandalis or groups keep performing by turn.

He keeps citing Kabir on every step while he tries to explain “Kabir saw the ‘noor’ the glow of that ‘Supreme’ in each and every one. That glow, which is beyond any caste , creed and religion.“Kabir says all have come here from one place and the destination is also the same “mati men mati mile, mile pavan men pavan…” Whether you cremate or bury the dead, it has to be one with the earth. The body is also the same ‘panch tattwa’ just like nature. The truth is that all have to go one day “Iss mati men sabko milna, kahe Kabir pukara…” . but we are worried about mundane things and false discriminations of religion, colour and gender. “Aya hai, sab jayega, Raja, Rank Fakir…” all have to go one day. It makes no difference whether you are a king or a pauper.”

He is also teaching it to the generation next. Many children are learning Kabir Gyan from him. “I teach poor orphaned children, mostly the kanjar children, without charging them any fees. This Neeraj (Arya), who is singing for Kabir Cafe, also came to me and I taught him. I don’t mind whether Kabir is sung by a pop band or a classical singer. By teaching and singing, my only aim is to take Kabir as far and wide as I can.”

Multiple flavours

Thoughtfully conceived and efficiently executed, the three-day festival brought together diverse traditions that offered Kabir in multiple flavours. The festival celebrated Kabir in myriad musical streams of classical and traditional to contemporary forms to ‘Words on Water, a literary discussions with Amish Tripathi and the visual art, reflecting through Kabir, the diversity and richness of India’s cultural heritage.

The Darbhanga and Assi Ghats reverberated with soulful music inspired by Kabir. If Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra presented the classical based bhajans of Kabir, Mukhtiyar Ali had the Rajasthani folk flavour. Pandit Ajay Chakraborty, Vidya Shah and the morning ragas drenched in Kabir in the vocal recital of Devashish Dey, in the flute recital by Atul Shankar and the sitar, violin and tabla trio. There were also the Kabir Cafe Pop Band and Kabir project film-maker Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi, who regaled the audience with their musical discourse on Kabir.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 6:42:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Kabir-once-more/article16667514.ece

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