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Articles about music and musicians
Social Change, through the Kabir Bhajan Mandali program, an experiment
The Real Punjabi Music by Himanshu Verma
Purna Das Baul interviewed by Pallavi Bhattacharya
Social Change, through the Kabir Bhajan Mandali program, an experiment. By Dinesh Sharma

Dinesh Sharma sadly passed away in August 2011 after a battle with cancer. He was instrumental for the Beat of India recordings in the Malwa region.
Dinesh Sharma
Dinesh Sharma

I first got associated with Eklavya in 1988. The NGO Eklavya is working in the field of health & education in many areas of Madhya Pradesh. My first task when I joined them was to create a suitable environment for a complete literacy program in the district. While working on this, I began to feel that unless there is participation and active involvement of the people for whom this is being done, the work of NGOs tends to remain limited to the surface just like many government schemes.
It is true that the underprivileged; Dalit sections of society are completely engrossed in their daily lives and in meeting their basic needs, yet, it is also true that unless they are involved with the program at some intrinsic level, the program can not hope to achieve any meaningful success.
I made up my mind that I will find an answer to this difficult question and started discussions with members of the organization. Finally I was finally given a free hand to try out an experiment. The family I come from has had a tradition of singing the words of the Nirguni saint poets for the last three generations through the " Sant Singhaji Gunhara " and the Bhajan Mandali programs of the Ashram and I have had the good fortune to be able to read a lot of hand written literature and participate with the Bhajan Mandalis at every level, sitting with them, listening, singing, accompanying and even directing them from time to time. So to be able to put

Bhajan Mandali
my ideas into practice through this project of Eklavya was a golden opportunity.
Since I was born and brought up in the Malwa region, I have had close contact with and first hand experience of all aspects of rural life and the culture and traditions of the area. Armed with this, I set out on my mission. My idea was to meet as many of the folk singers, Bhajan singers, and the men and women who sing traditional songs, as possible. Through this I came in contact with many other cultural groups of the region as well.
The kind of the groups I met in this period were Maach Groups, Ramayan Groups, Theatrical groups, Gyaras singers, Kabir Bhajan singers and groups, folk singers; men women and young girls (mostly tribal), Kirtan groups, Qawwali groups etc. We stayed in close contact with some of them. We then went a step ahead and gave them the words of some songs about social change and got them to create tunes of popular folk appeal and then perform them. Accompanied by local instruments , these turned into beautiful presentations and their song books & audio cassettes too, became very popular. Many of these were performed for other organizations and for programs all over the country.

Bhajan Mandali

Prahlad Singh Tipaniya, Early Years
One of the most significant discoveries of this process was that of the Kabir Bhajan Mandalis. A Kabir Bhajan program of December 1989 that I attended with my colleague Dr. Ramnarayan Syag is unforgettable. The performing group sang a Kabir Bhajan, "Naam Se Milya Na Koi Sadho Bhai". The essence of this Bhajan is, that just like by chanting the word 'sugar' one can't experience its sweetness, likewise, one can't find peace by simply chanting the Lord's name. 'Sugar' is just a word and so is the name of the lord, the word "Ram".
The simple yet scientific thought behind all of Kabir's verses inspired me to read and understand it in more and more detail and to explore the oral tradition of Kabir's verses that existed in the area, in as much depth as possible . This desire got stronger day by day and especially by night since most programs of Kabir Bhajans went on through the nights.
I would set out for almost every Kabir Bhajan program that I got information of and I would remain with the Mandalis or groups all the time. Eat with them and stay with them as well. This surprised them immensely and there were two reasons for that. First and most important was the fact that I am a Brahmin by caste and in many generations, no one from my family would have taken even water at the house of a lower caste person, leave alone eating with them or sleeping at their house. And similarly, not a single person from their caste would ever have set foot in our house. Most of the Kabir Bhajan groups consist of people from the harijan or scheduled castes of the social heirarchy. It was for this reason that my presence in their houses not only surprised them but somewhere gave them a feeling of pride.
The second reason was that no person from a town or any organization ever went to listen to these groups. Meaning that apart from the people of the Harijan Mohalla or their own caste colony, not even a person from the same village would go and listen to them.

Dinesh Sharma With Bhajan Mandali

Maach Performance

Kabir Bhajan Program
Over a period of time we kept in touch with these groups and established a dialogue with them explaining our mission and objectives. Slowly more people started coming together with us and it began to take the shape of a forum.

At the initiative of many active members of these groups and after a few informal Bhajan programs, this entire effort assumed a fairly organized character and took on the name of the "Kabir Bhajan Evam Vichar Manch" meaning " Kabir Bhajan and Discussion Forum ". A short agenda was set forth and the objectives and modus operandi was decided.
The Objectives were

1. Spreading awareness about Kabir's thought.
2. A survey of the Kabir Bhajan Mandali's, compilation of information about them and the creation of a directory for their contacts.
3. A study of the literature of Kabir and other Nirguni saint poets and the creation of a library facilitating the study.
4. Recording the existing oral traditions related to Kabir's thought in different media.
5. Providing support to all those doing research in the Malwa region about Kabir's thought.
It is very difficult to pen down what all one achieved from what one set out to do because it has been more of a journey with some obvious and many not so obvious fall outs, benefits, changes and processes being set in motion. I am trying to enumerate some of these that are more direct than others

Kabir Bhajan Singers
1. In the way the entire work was conducted, there was a spirit of openness, discussion and collective thought.
2. Within the confines of our social order and orthodoxies, people's ideas found an expression, got to be discussed and were utilized to create a new order from within the present circumstances.
3. The project created a sense of the unity in diversity that is an integral part of Indian culture despite the forces that are continuously trying to destroy this element of our culture.
4. People, both artistes and listeners, got a chance to come together under one umbrella and exchange ideas, perform, watch performances as per their own needs and liking.
5. Perhaps for the first time in the Malwa region there was popularization in the true sense of the radical & highly secular thoughts of Kabir. This is no mean achievement given that Kabir was rampantly misinterpreted by sects that created a magical aura around him and used it to perpetuate the same orthodoxies (through rituals like the Chowka aarti) that Kabir always stood against. This trend was and continues to be almost like a game-plan of powers that don't want his real message to percolate down to the masses.
6. It brought together performers of all levels, both professional and amateur and gave them a chance to learn from each other, exchange ideas and materials, and of course perform at programs of all hues and shades, private, government sponsored etc. Additionally researchers, film makers and intellectuals from within and outside the country got an organized route to meeting these artistes, hearing them, discussing ideas with them and so on. The artistes in turn got a chance through these people of wider exposure, release of their cassettes, documentaries about them, publishing of directories, song books and more.
7. New songs on many important social themes were created taking inspiration from the radical thoughts of Kabir and the traditional variety of tunes that his songs were sung in.
8. There seems to be approaching a significant socio-cultural turn where-in people seem to be begin a battle to go from a state of spiritual freedom towards one of social freedom.
9. There are now many new organizations that are taking this work forward in their own ways too.

All in all, most of the objectives were achieved at levels even beyond our own expectations and since the work is carrying on in many ways, it will see continuous growth.

Beat of India's recordings in the Malwa Belt
Directory of Kabir Bhajan Mandalis in the Malwa belt

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