Ruhaniyat, a two-day Sufi & Mystical music festival took place in Mumbai last weekend. I had been to the dress-rehearsal on behalf of DNA to speak to a few artists.
A small figure sat huddled in a plastic chair sipping something hot. “The artist is not feeling well”, I was informed. On the stage a group from Rajasthan – Kachra Khan and group – was rehearsing. The mike was turned off; the voice and sarangi notes wafted through giving the winter air a mystical tinge.
Later, I met the group which was just on stage. “All of us are from Barmer and Jaisalmer districts,” informed Manzoor Khan, the dholak player. The group consists two communities – Langas and Mangnyas. In the early days, Langas were patronized by the Mussalmans while Mangnyas were patronized by Rajput leaders.
But the two groups generally play together when they perform outside since differences between the two styles are minimal. Both communities live off their art. “We are called to entertain guests whenever there is a marriage, birthday, or any other festival. This is our profession… our business. We know nothing else,” says Khan.
Kachra Khan & group play Rajasthani Lok Sangeet and Sufiana music. Khan says that in the city they generally stick to popular folk numbers. But at Ruhaniyat, the Sufi & mystical music festival, the group has the license to perform songs written by Sufi saints like Bhulle Shah, Shah Abdul Latif, and Baba Farid. “Old songs have a lot of weight. The words carry a lot of meaning. It is a challenge to sing them.”
Even as we were speaking, the huddled figure got off the chair and came on stage. In one hand was an ektara and in the other a duggi. I couldn’t understand the lyrics, which were in Bengali. But it was not at all important – the melancholy, the joy were conveyed through the modulations in the voice and, of course, dancing – uncomplicated, yet rhythmic dancing.
“The dance lends more power to the voice,” explained Parvathy. She is part of Baul, a yogic tradition. Baul has different meanings. “It means wind. When you practice it for long hours, you get a special breath. But you could also say we become baul – madness.”
“Telling the words of the masters gives me joy. I am singing and hearing at the same time”, she said. Perhaps that was the reason why the headache and fever had disappeared after the rehearsal.
Parvathy was 16 years old when she started learning the art form. Later, the Bachelor of Fine Arts student at Shantiniketan found it impossible to follow University syllabus. She dropped out and immersed herself in Baul completely.
“Baul is a sort of rebellion by viraktas (detached people) against existing system. In Islam they are called Sufis,” informed Parvathy.
Ten groups will perform at Ruhaniyat this year. Their traditions are different. The instruments used by the groups will differ too… and so will the languages. The one thing they share is a desire to become one with God through song and dance.
As the famous Sufi poet Rumi puts it, “My place is placeless, my trace is traceless. No body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls. I have chased out duality, lived the two worlds as one. One I seek, one I know, one I see, one I call. He is the first, he is the last, he is the outer, he is the inner. Beyond “He” and “He is” I know no other.”