Kabir the Iconoclast

Kabir the Iconoclast

By Ila Gupta | 16 Oct, 2018

It’s Benares and music and the maverick saint Kabir! The city is an anomalous churn of the ancient and the universal in a modern world at war with itself. I say this with considered thought keeping in mind the sensitivity of the holy city for its citizens and the thousands who have flocked to its hallowed ghats for appeasement and succour since centuries.

My mind wanders to the ongoing war against pollution which casts a pall over the evening sky, shadowing the Ganga revered as the mother goddess by many. Sometimes the filth appals me; it has collected on every narrow alley lined with sacred Shiv lingams and sundry alcoves housing gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. And it’s a battle against the enormous divide betwixt religious beliefs of different communities who have created a cultural parable over centuries which is sought to be torn asunder. And I think of Kabir who stood for unity amongst the oddest of beliefs and scorned at ceremony and I realise how revolutionary were his views.

Kabir remains a parable of the ideologies of amity, equality and of breaking the norm: of questioning the material and of peaceful co-existence through music and art. And I think how Kabir’s verse, lyric and song are beautifully and musically exemplified in the Mahindra Kabira Festival.

Kabir sang of love for your brethren and for simplicity. His dohas have been sung in local dialects through classical, folk and tribal music and in rock and even jazz! Kabir’s lyric echoes through many music channels, voices young and old, joined by a common thread of universal equality and harmonious camaraderie. Each voice resonates with a conviction of truths so simply told by the Fakir Kabir!

At Kabira, I found audiences flocking to each show. They rocked to the melodies and rhythms age old and new age! They swung and swayed to the truths unveiled in each doha and nodded wisely to the simple words of Kabir.

But was it just as ephemeral as the sunlight bouncing off the ripples of the Ganga? We were told of Kabir’s chauraha in lyrical melodies where now it’s just fragmented cobbled streets strewn with garbage overlooked by skies dotted with cable wires.

The mighty walls of the ghats speak of histories created by generations, of rituals and ceremonies often descending into meaningless manoeuvres creating masses of more garbage and environmental obstacles. Thousands descend onto the streets of Benares on Dev Deepawali, Chaat Puja, Shiv Ratri and many such evocative festivals – hordes of overseas tourists ply the river capturing the colourful and unfamiliar spectacle.

Is the eternal city’s fabled mystique lost in the bedlam of ritual and blind belief? Has its truth hidden itself within layers of conditioned thought? Has the spiritual ethos mired itself in ceremony and in a gluttony of tradition and conformity with none of the curiosity preached by Kabir nor with any regard for the quest of his wisdom?

Mahindra Kabira is the verse, lyric and song of Kabir, who lived way ahead of his times – reviving truths and philosophies told by the sage who urged for human kindness to re-emerge in order to re-vitalize a burdened social milieu to seek and maybe choose compassion and empathy. Now is the time more than ever for Kabir, the iconoclast.


Ila Gupta

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