“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Someone is Listening

It was nearly 1o’clock in the night. Bashir and I stood on the verandah of his quarters, deep in the forests, tiny beside the huge trees that rose up to the sky. In front of the building flowed a stream; in its dark waters glimmered moon, spraying sparkles. The mist had lifted and moonlight fell on every leaf, every tree. Every thing was so clear and bright. Except for the cicadas, the night was silent and peaceful. We too, were silent and at peace.
Tigers and elephants and a lot of other wildlife abound in these forests adjoining the Periyar Tiger Reserve. This is beautiful wild country, in spite of human presence such as a series of hydel dams, cardamom plantations etc. I was with Bashir, my old friend and philosopher. In the late evening as I sat sipping my shot, Bashir, in his soft-spoken way asked- “Balan, have you seen ‘Koi Sunta Hai? It’s a documentary on Kumar Gandharva and his Kabir bhajans.’ I hadn’t. Bashir set up his laptop and the projector that he uses to take nature study classes.
In the semi-darkness the screen lit up. A haunting voice filled the room as the screen slowly revealed Kumar Gandharva. Koi Sunta hai, Guru Gyani… gagan mein aavaaz ho rahi hai, jhinin -jhinin! Someone listens, a guru, a wise one. A voice vibrates in the sky, subtle, very subtle!
I am stunned. I am mesmerized. I do not breathe. The movement of life has stopped as I am taken to the doors to eternity.
Pandit Kumar Gandharva was undoubtedly one of the most famous classical musicians in India. Born on 8th April, 1924 as Shivaputra Siddharamayya Komkali. Pandit Kumar Gandharva was a child prodigy. Though he learned music from different Gharanas, he refused to be tied down by any kind of Gharana and believed in being innovative and trying out his own new styles.
When he was still very young, Kumar Gandharva contacted Tuberculosis. For more than a decade he could not sing. The prince of Hindustani classical music retired to Dewas as a recluse. There he came to hear the folk songs of the area, based on Kabir bhajans. In 1957, Kumar Gandharva partly recovered and made a come back to the musical scene. He brought the folk rendition of Kabir to the main stage.
I am an aficionado of Hindustani classical music though I cannot tell the rag-s etc. but I love to listen to it. And Kabir! I remember the ‘dohe’s I was forced to learn by rot in school – Kabir, Tulsidas and Surdas!
In this enlightening documentary on Kumar Gandharva and the origin of Kabir bhajans, Shabnam Virmani goes into rural Madhya Pradesh. She visits Rewas, where Kumar Gandharva spent his days, unable to sing, questioning his existence, questioning the reality that he knew. It was in Rewa that he first heard the folk singers singing Kabir. There are riveting interviews with Shubha Mudgal and the beautiful Vidya Rao, the Thumri singer. Vidya Rao goes into the soul of Kabir when she says that what Kabir wants is you to savour life. Vidya Rao gestures. The concept of the two birds on a tree, one eating fruit and the other watching – Kabir, she says, is signifying the duality of self. Kabir, is in everyone. In you and me too. In rare moments of insights, he comes out, surprising ourselves.

Disciples of KG such as Madup Mudgal, Pratheeksha Sharma and others render haunting melodies of Kabir Bhajans. As we move into the rural Madhya Pradesh and the itinerant folk singers, we are taken to a totally different world, the world of real India. Singers such as Prahlad Tipanya enchant you with their repertoire.
There are many unforgettable sequences in the documentary. Even if you are not familiar with Hindustani, you will be captivated by the songs and the scenes.
I bought Kumar Gandharva’s Avdhoot bhajans from a music store and mail ordered those by Vidya Rao and collections of folk songs by Kabir sung by different artistes, called Ghat Ghat Kabir. The wonderful thing is that the CDs come with beautifully designed text of versese in Hindi and English.
If you are interested, log on to http://www.scholarswithoutborders.in/ I guarantee you a rare, unimaginable experience of joy and peace.
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 02-11-2010


  1. You probably enjoyed it in that ambience.The silence and the peace of the night in the forest,and your spirits awakening..all together.
    I havent heard much of Kabir after we left school, and I didnt have the opportunity to listen to this kind of bhajan.
    I know that recently one of the fusion bands took one of his poems and made an album.
    We would give it a try, in the city background.

  2. First time that i heard Kumar Gandharva was on DD very long time back and he was singing -'koi sunta hai guru gyani '.We had black and white tv then,i was completely stunned by the magic of his voice .He wore a white dhoti- kurta and sang with his eyes closed and it between jerked his head alongwith the beats of tabla.For no reason i had tears rolling down throughout the song-it was so touching.

    I have not seen this documentary as yet .Thanks for the link ,i will check it right now.

    It feels wonderful to find that you too love K.G.!

  3. If time permits please read this post by ny dear friend Sandhya -http://maradhimanni.blogspot.com/2010/10/have-goose-bumps-on-my-body-hearing.html

  4. I have heard Kumar Gandharva in radio at nights in the National programme of music, several years back, with my dad. He was a fan of Bhimsen Joshi and Kumar Gandharva. Many people in our family learnt Carnatic music and I am very familiar with it than Hindustani. Nowadays, I love to hear Hindustani music. The 'Sangeet Sarita' prog. in Vividh Bharati introduces us to the singers as well as music.

    I envy you for seeing and hearing KG in the ambience you have explained here so passionately. You get involved with music more in this atmosphere.

    Will check for the Documentary shortly.

    Nice knowing you Balachandran, thanks to Kavita!

  5. @Kavitha: You must get "Avdhoota Bhajana of KG, if you already haven't. Produced by RPG. There are other songs such as Ud gaya hans, Avdhoota, etc. Superb CD!

    There is another way one can make one's own CD. See www.hamaracd.com. The quality of their CDs are not so good, so as soon as you receive the CD transfer the music. But you get the chance to make your select CD.

    I checked out Sandhya's blog. I get goose bumps all the time I listen to Hindustani, be it vocal or instrumental. I have a special affinity for Kishori Amonkar.

  6. @Sandhya: Funny that we 'Southies' should love Hindustani more than Carnatic, isn't it? :)

    I always found Hindustani more appealing to my aesthetic and emotional senses than Carnatic.

    Thank you for visiting. Hope to see more of you. Read your post on Veena S. Haven't heard of her till now. Will search for her music.

  7. Cannot comment on a subject that is not known to me. But I also understand that music can transcend in strange beautiful ways.Heard about Kumar Gandharv and also his renditions.

  8. @Anil; One day, to the accompaniment of 'Signature', we will watch the docu and listen to KG!


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