Saturday, 20 March 2010

Malwa Yatra - Luniyakhedi

The Malwa Yatra - a journey, a pilgrimage, was to take place through the heart of Malwa, central India, and heartland of Kabir traditions. Kabir had become a living, thriving and integral part of lives and cultures that inhabited this space, moving and evolving with ease, from generation to generation, permeating the local speech, coloring the local songs. The journey was to begin from Luniyakhedi - from the home of Prahaladji Tippaniya, a leading folk singer of Malwa, Madhya Pradesh, and the soul of this Yatra.

It was after many hesitations, pauses, reflections that I had decided to join this journey. Its significance I recognised from afar, the vast geographical and cultural distance of my location in cosmopolitan Bangalore. It was precisely this inner recognition that fed my hesitation, a reluctance to enter waters too deep, when even the streams of Kabir songs that reached across into my polished urban world seemed too swift, powerful enough to carry me away on their surges. At some level, I just gave in. I gave in to an attraction, a desire to plunge, throwing caution to winds - I took a chance by going to Malwa.

It was befitting that I should first view the Kabir Smarak from a distance - bumping along with Shabnam - Ajay Tipaniya speeding his dusty Scorpio along the ups and downs of this mud road leading to Luniyakhedi. Dry, dark cracked lotus ponds rode along our side - the same one that I knew in lush, blooming abundance, from 'Chalo Hamara Desh'. In the distance the Kabir Smarak - an immediate jolt of recognition, an arrival to spaces where a conversation seen on screen with Prahaladji, long back, had sparked a recognition of shared intuited truths, deep within. I saw the Smarak across dark fallow fields, harvested and awaiting - as my life had also awaited, long and fallow and ready for the instance when Kabir would ride into my life, on waves of songs - heady, earthy, soil fragrant fields - these fields of Malwa.

Shabnam and I got off to be immediately surrounded by friends, family members of the Tipaniya household - her friends - and I was automatically engulfed in the same warmth of kinship - returned with ease, grasped hands, close hugs - no distance, no preludes, a diving straight into a belonging..I knew many of these people closely on the screen, and they therefore seemed to know me too.

A large area in front of the Smarak was covered with a pandal, thick sheets spread on the ground, some mattresses spread, stacks of chairs skirting the border - two stages in the front. One was for the white robed God men who had started trickling in - the Kabir Panthis who were to preside over, sermonize and bless the beginnings of this Yatra. The other stage was for the artists, singers of Kabir Bhajans - from Malwa region, and also invited for the Yatra from Kutch, Gujarat, Rajasthan... this is what we were all here for. To hear the songs of this region at their origin, and see the confluence of separate folk streams intermingling within this vibrant, cultural space, creating whirling eddies.

The first evening was supposed to be a smaller, private function, and still had an audience of over 500!The music began with regional participants and also Shabnam, Prahladji...wings began to unfurl, the body stretch and lengthen in anticipation of soaring flights ahead..the heady combination of full voices, resonant dholaks, kartaals, manjeeras - the musical voyage had begun.

I was surprised and touched that ALL were invited with such insistent request to please participate in the evening dinner...the only attached request was that we wash our own plates! The family had cooked for 500! Later, Prahaladji told Priti, my sister, that all excess grain from the fields, after setting aside for the family needs, was kept for these song gatherings. 'Bhajan' with 'Bhojan' as Shabnam likes to say - nourishing souls and keeping the stomach well fed. What was this Kabirean space that I had stumbled into??

The formal beginning happened on the morning of March 7 with a Shobha Yatra around Maksi - tinsel chariot, blarring music, garlanded Godmen omnipresent in stern looks, white robes, sandalwood smeared forheads..the Mahant of the Kabir Panthis had crowned himself in a gold tinseled hat and sat aloof on his high throne, staring straight ahead. Crowds with mustachioed men of sun baked skin, earrings, brilliant turbans, women with half hidden faces, sarees of myriad brilliant hues and sparkles, bejewelled hands, feet, gold at neck, ears, glittery noserings..I was mesmerised, speechless, only reacting by the constantly clicking away with my camera.

Moora Lala, from Kutch, whom I had heard in Gujarat, arrived with his brilliant accompanist Parbat Jogi! Also the legendary Hemant Chauhan of Gujarat and his troupe. Excitement mounted through a day of watching the crowds pour in, families with old people, children, walking miles, clad suitably for the great event. Men rode in on motorcycles, large turbans and all. Children scampered, laughed, screamed, right in front of the stage, even as sermons on Kabir continued by the panthis. I watched bemused at this mela.

Sky turned gold, red, and auspicious - large domed skies on fire. Stars slowly studded the growing inky darkness. The crowd was already 3000 strong! We started with Shabnam's movie "Chalo Hamara Desh" - engaging the crowd completely - after all large sections of this film were shot right here, in Luniyakhedi, and its cast were sitting, engrossed, a part of this audience. I sat staring at them more, finally grasping how openly confrontational, political and deeply honest this film was - all with an ease of shared conversations over making rotis. I realised, with forceful impact, the deeply embedded caste divisions and associated humiliations from the expressive faces that sat in shock as they watched themselves breaking taboos on the screen - speaking of personal caste based experiences. I now understood why this film had to be seen here - respoken, reheard, by the huge two-dimensional images flitting on the screen and booming in their own voices.

The music started after and continued till the morning. Moora Lala once again beaming his brilliant crooked smile - in pauses, Jogi taking off - flamboyant on his Dholak; Hemant Chauhan rocked with his Tandava song, Shabnam sang 'to the Universe' as only she knows how, and Prahaladji - everyone's all time favorite sang with that questioning, catch-in-his voice...

I sat non-resisting, saying grace that I was alive for this moment.

Photos of these to days in Luniyakhedi are found here.


PRITI said...

Dear Sis,
The piece is wonderfully beautifully written . I felt I was back again in Lunyakhedi sitting on the mattresses (so willingly shared by the local women) with my heart beating hard and a big smile on my face just waiting for the music to begin.
I remember Prahladji himself coming to the Maksi bus stop to pick me up, his warmth and the ease with which his family accepted me. I knew Shantiji from the film but to her I was just another stranger . Yet she did not for a moment let me feel like a stranger.

All my feelings seem magnified with your add-on feelings in your writing.
Loved reading it.

What's in a name? said...


Vividly written.

You have taken me back to the fields of Kabir Nagar in Luniyakhedhi.

During the documentary screening, the reaction of the women could be felt on the other side of the tent. The women reacted a split second faster to Shantiji's rooted wisdom than the men.

Sitting in the midst of these men, and listening in to their conversation about what was happening on screen was an experience in itself.

Wonderful post!

Arati said...

Dear Priti, Anand,

Thanks for your encouraging comments!


Zorba said...

wish i had known about it just few days before. but i feel it's never too late to experience such rare moments. i wish me better luck next time. is it an annual affair?

Arati said...

We do hope this will be a repeat event!

Mita ALL said...

well said, Arati! my feelings exactly. It was pure grace to have been able to have been part of it. Reliving moment after moment of that incredible journey, and this incredible feeling of oneness with all these people, through the music.... waking up to Moora Lala playing in my head : what bliss!

And Priti, i have an absolutely fantastic pic on my mobile phone of you and your sis Arati with beaming smiles on your faces sitting amongst those women in Luniyakhedi.

And you are absolutely right about Shabnam > she really sings to the Universe... you found the exact words for it. And i found it so touching that repeatedly, the local people asked for her to sing, to end each concert with her...whenever there was a deeper closer more personal moment, there was a call for Shabnam to sing.

One thing i did miss was more of Prahladji singing. For some reason, he kept back and didn't sing as much as i would have liked.

then i even wondered > how much of a good thing can one take? i just kept and keep wanting more. Now that's not very Kabirian is it? i just can't help it. I'm just covered with this music thanks to this Yatra and the Bangalore satsangs.

I actually think this music has an effect on the body. There is also a physical effect in addition to the spiritual upliftment, and if i remember right, during the Thursday satsang there was a reference to a line which talked about the effect on the body... well, i believe it is really true. I have felt it. It can probably also be measured.... just like people at UC Irvine measured the effects of Mozart on concentration and memory... i think this music is de-stressing, spreads feelings of love, compassion, connection, oneness - even if one doesn't understand the words. I'm nearly 100% sure there is an effect on the respiratory rate. And the more i listen to Shabnam's CD, the more i think this music is deeply therapeutic, and can be used in healing therapies like Tomatis > for kids with learning disorders, hyperactive kids and also autistic kids, all kids who lack and therefore need a certain repetitive structure.

I saw Patrick on the road in Auroville today for the first time after the Yatra, and i cannot even describe the utter joy i had in shouting out "Jai Ho Kabir!" :-) A connection to Malwa > a shared experience so deep and so profound, nothing can obliterate it!

Arati said...

Dear Mita -
Thanks for all the beautiful sharing..from my side, I must give full credit of Shabnam's
" singing to the Universe" to our dear Saraswati - another new friend from the yatra!