Monday, September 13, 2010

Call of the Kabir Panthis

Yesterday, we were fortunate to hear the songs of the famous Kabir Panthi, Prahlad Tipaniya and his group, who had arrived early morning from his village in Madhya Pradesh and had graciously agreed to visit our campus after a morning performance in the city. Kabir - the 15th century devotional poet has a large following (Kabir panth). His teachings, beautifully worded, rooted in spirituality, have a deceptive simplicity. Many of his poems use analogies and examples to convey the message of brotherhood, the importance of moving from ignorance and falsehood towards knowledge and truth. In this process, the role of the guru is also emphasized, as the medium that helps us bridge the gap, the one who drives our transformation and makes us see things that we would otherwise be oblivious to. The nature of the songs is such that they reach out to the masses; they contain a simple moral but underlying this is often found a deep spiritual concept. The play of words is beautiful, especially when sung by those who live to practice the words, as the group who visited here.

We sat upon a tiny grassy patch, on a Sunday evening - some on the ground and some on a few scattered chairs and benches- and took in the wonderful songs (interspersed with explanations) which struck a chord deep inside. After the recent reports on religious divides coming from different parts of the world, it was very soothing and calming to listen to the voice of reason and peace. The Tipaniya group comes from Malwa, a place in central India, which has a distinct musical tradition influenced by Rajasthan. The following are sites to a couple of recordings of Prahlad Tipaniya and his group:


This is the song 'koi sunta hai' - only a few - the guru, the wise man, listen to the voice in the sky - the sound of which is very faint ('jheena jheena'). Unfortunately in this recording you cannot see the musicians, but the nice thing is that the words come on the screen along with English translations on a backdrop of textile (perhaps as Kabir was a weaver?) The translation of this very profound piece is simplistic, but gives one a flavour of Kabir's songs and their folk rendition. Here, the 'left' and 'right' (ida, pingala) according to Yogic tradition, refer to the channels through which the vital force (prana) flows through the body; ida represents the energy of the moon and pingala that of the sun. When the energy is allowed to flow unhindered along the channels, one attains a clarity of mind, body and spirit.


(You may need to reduce the volume here). This is a performance at an annual event of spiritual music (not translated into English). Prahlad Tipaniya begins the concert with 'guru vandana' - a prayer to the guru, without whom we cannot move from a state of searching to finding. Who is a guru? There are many descriptions over time and Kabir simply says -

Sab Dharti Kagaz Karu,
Lekhan Ban Raye.
Saat Samundra Ki Mas Karu
Guru Gun Likha Na Jaye

“Even if the whole earth is transformed into paper with all the trees in the forest made into pens and if the entire water in the seven oceans are transformed into writing ink, even then the qualities (glories) of the Guru cannot be written.”

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