Mahindra Kabira 2023 – A spectacle for the soul and the senses

Mahindra Kabira 2023 – A spectacle for the soul and the senses

By Arundhati Nath | 08 Dec, 2023

As the weather turns in Delhi and the pollution haze begins to lift somewhat, my mind reflects on evocative thoughts, and I begin to look forward to Mahindra Kabira 2023, the annual coming together of musical and spiritual discovery, next to the iconic river Ganga, in one of the world’s most historically charged cities, Varanasi. The Festival, to be held from 15th – 17th December 2023, will, as always, be a grand tribute to the unique wisdom of the 15th-century mystic & visionary poet, Kabir, whose understanding of humanity was far beyond even present times.


The diverse Mahindra Kabira programming will showcase a range of classical and folk music, talks, live art demonstrations, the characteristic Kabira boat rides, a delectable local food journey and the quintessential Ganga Arati experience. The joys and sights of the incredible host city will be shown to delegates through guided Heritage Walks.  


Enlightened contemplation as one soaks in the music, the essence of the city and the gleaming Ganga bathed in the golden sun, are the among the many things I am looking forward to!  Apart from, of course, the highlight of my upcoming sojourn - the spectacular musical programme with artists who interpret Kabir’s world-view in their own special ways with music that bridges the mystic’s earthy and startlingly simple couplets with both contemporary verse and classical undertones.   




The Opening Reception and the two-day Morning Music line-up will feature ‘Atmaranjan - Music for the Soul’ by classical vocalist Sveta Kilpady where she will bring to life Kabir’s dohas through her repertoire of thumris and songs from the Jaipur Atrauli Gharana; Raagi (traditional Sikh devotional singer) Sandeep Singh will play Morning Ragas on ancient string instruments, the taus and dilruba, as dawn breaks, with Avirbhav Verma on the tabla; Hindustani vocalist Bhuvanesh Mukul Komkali,  grandson of the legendary Pandit Kumar Gandharva, will pay tribute to the maestro on his centenary year with Nirgun bhajans; Hindustani classical vocalist & Banaras Gharana tabla player Purnesh Bhagwat will bring a melange of traditional bandishes of Morning Ragas - sung in different tempos and beats, while the duo Kartikeya and Makrand will bring folksy percussion along with serene flute melodies in a stirring duet inspired by Kabir.



Afternoons at Mahindra Kabira are languid, reflective and richly layered in discourse. 2023 has a stalwart gathering of erudite scholars for discourses before repast, after  you have taken in the city’s sights on your meandering guided walks -  with Linda Hess, Emerita Professor at Stanford University, who has worked extensively on Kabir’s oral and written traditions, in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy; educator, spiritual mentor and researcher of theology, Umesh Kabir who  has been living out Kabir’s philosophy in the Kabirchauramath, Moolgadhi Ashram, Varanasi, and will speak on Kabir's ultimate alchemy of love and understanding of the world; renowned Kabir scholar, Purushottam Agrawal, in conversation with poet Saumya Kulshreshtha, will demystify Kabir’s poetry and philosophy.



One of India’s leading and most versatile painters, Paresh Maity, will take us through his magnificent art that depicts the many moods of Varanasi in a lec-dem, titled, ‘Benares on Canvas’ as he paints a masterpiece live at the Festival!



The evenings, which are the musical finial to the sun-dappled tapestry of the days, will host artists who promise to hold me captive and in their thrall. I marvel at their talent as I rattle off – Padma Shri Ustad Anwar Khan Manganiar will present Rajasthani folk music along with bhajans and dohas of Kabir and other Sufi saints, Meera Bai & Amir Khusro; the renowned and gifted classical vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande of the famed Jaipur-Atrauli Khayal Gayaki will be accompanied by Sveta Hattangdi Kilpady (on vocals) and Pandit Vinod Lele (on the tabla); the Vasu Dixit Collective will perform the Electrokabira, inspired by the words and philosophy of mystic-poets like Kabir, Purandaradasa, Basavanna and Kanakadasa, as a contemporary and modern musical twist to the traditional; and finally the unparalleled Indian Ocean, known for their signature blend of Indian traditional music with rock, jazz, and other genres, will bring their very own take on Kabir!


I can’t wait to wake up to my steaming kullad of Banarasi chai, the misty and enigmatic skyline of temples and havelis that holds your gaze in its unbreakable spell, the muted sounds of harmonium from the many music schools that dot the city’s alleys, and the vast numbers of devotees braving the early-morning chill to take a dip in the eternal river, as I look out from my boat that ambles past a tableau I will not find anywhere else in the world but at the Mahindra Kabira Festival (!


Arundhati Nath

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