Published on the York University Blog on Mar. 17 2009
I sat in the Tribute Communities Hall in the East Accolade building last night in a crowd made up mostly of Indian faces. I was there to see Prahlad Singh Tipanya, the well known singer of Indian Kabir Bhajans, or traditional devotional folk songs. Kabir was an ancient poet/saint in Northern India in the 15th century that has influenced many aspects of modern India.
From the crowd I looked at the raised platform on the stage that was close to the ground. On the short platform sat lowered microphones and Indian instruments, waiting for their musicians. I then realized that the singing would be done by the artists in a sitting position. I was glad to see that the musicians would be performing in a traditional style.
The singers walked on stage dressed in tunics and baggy pants and remained barefoot. Their heads were covered with tightly wrapped turbans with extra cloth falling along their backs. The turbans were coloured with bright orange and shades of red. My mind began to wander as I envisioned Indian street scenes with crowds of people. This cultural experience would keep my travel addicted desires quiet for a few days.
The main singer held up the large tambura instrument which looked like an oversized mandolin with a long neck. One musician had a hand drum on his lap, while two of the other men held silver bells in their hands. One final musician, a little smaller than the others, fit a violin firmly under his chin. And then the music began. The men’s voices blended into one another and were accompanied with the folk melodies of the instruments. The violin almost gave me the feeling that I was listening to a bit of Cajun style Indian music.
Tipanya sang verses of Kabir poetry as if he were having a conversation with the audience. I felt as if I were sitting on the ground under a tree and a philosopher was passing on proverbs and words of wisdom. Tipanya is a rural school teacher but has also become almost like an interpreter of Kabir’s words. In between Kabir’s verses Tipanya gives his simple interpretations of the poetry.
Tipanya tells us that Kabir wants us to keep our minds together as we have nothing to fear. He also advises us to battle our emptiness by discarding our self importance. He informs us that Kabir writes about breath as the great equalizer that proves there is no difference between Muslims and Hindus. Kabir says that he is not Hindu or Muslim as both carry a hidden light in which he moves. He also advises that God is in every single breath.
I found these messages soothing despite their generalities. It made me want to hop on a plane to India. But unfortunately that will have to wait.