Three days of classical music concerts, folk songs, dance performances, film screenings and talks in Mumbai will celebrate the life and work of 15th century Sufi poet and sage Kabir. More importantly, The Kabir Festival will explore the mystic’s relevance in today’s strife-torn contemporary society.
The fest takes off from social activist and documentary film-maker Shabnam Virmani’s The Kabir Project. In the aftermath of the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002, Virmani, a former journalist who shot to acclaim with her expose of the Roop Kanwar sati case in 1987, spent six years travelling with folk singers who have sung Kabir’s dohas for centuries. Journeys with Kabir, a set of four films by Virmani born out of those years of travel, documenting the singers’ lives and the influence of Kabir, form the backbone of the festival.
Poster of The Kabir Festival
Had-Anhad: Journeys with Ram and Kabir examines Kabir’s repeated invocation of the Hindu god Ram. Chalo Hamara Des: Journeys with Kabir and Friends is a journey in search of Kabir’s des and unfolds through the interwoven narratives of two people from two very different countries—Dalit folk singer Prahlad Tipaniya and American scholar Linda Hess, who is an expert on Kabir. Koi Sunta Hai: Journeys with Kumar and Kabir interweaves the oral traditions of Kabir in central India with the intensely personal narrative of the late classical singer Kumar Gandharva. Kabira Khada Bazar Mein: Journeys with Sacred and Secular Kabir probes the ironies and tensions between secular and sacred Kabir and the story unfolds through the life of Tipaniya.
A fifth film is also part of the repertoire. Do Din ka Mela, a Kutchi and Gujarati bilingual film by K.P. Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro, tells the story of Dalit Sufi singer Mura Lala from a pastoral Dalit community of the Kutch region and his nephew Kanji. Lala and Tipaniya will be performing live as well. For the first time, the festival will include dance performances by Kathak exponents Sanjukta Wagh and Rajendra Chaturvedi. The festival will also feature discussions by Hess, classical and folk performances and even a Kabir-themed rock concert by Makeshift, a Delhi-based band.
Earlier editions of the festival have been held across the country in cities such as Delhi, Bangalore, Puducherry, Pune and Vadodara. An edition was held even in the US. Interestingly, shows are not organized by any particular organization or group of people. Any Kabir enthusiast can take the initiative to host the festival in his city.
In the seven days leading up to the main festival, a series of functions are on at various city schools and among local NGOs working with children. Storytelling sessions, film shows, dance workshops, musical performances—all aim to spread Kabir’s message among youth. Entry is, however, restricted to students of participating schools and NGOs.
The main festival, open to all, will be held across four venues from 21-23 January. For details of the schedule, log on to www.thekabirfest.com