Sunday, December 11, 2011

A mystical eclipse

Yesterday, thanks to a last-minute invite from a friend, I experienced a magical evening that was Ruhaniyat. (Details available here.)
As the moon slowly disrobed its earthly shadow, I sat down to enchanting music, unable to decide what was casting a deeper spell - the music or the moon.

The evening began with a Kashmiri group, led by Abdul Rashid Hafiz, singing devotional songs that effortlessly blended Kashmiri and Sanskrit words. The one about Meera complaining to Krishna that she doesn't get enough of his time and attention was superb and filled with surprises such as the ticklish presence of the word soundarya in an otherwise wholesome Sufi melody. But I soon began expecting "unusual" words. After all, language is to music what religion is to spirituality - irrelevant!

The second group of performers was from Alandi in Maharashtra and led by Avdhoot Gandhi. I revisited my childhood in an attempt to catch the untranslated meaning of the three songs they sung. I more or less succeeded in this endeavour, finding myself moved by the suggestion that we need knowledge to distil the divine within ourselves, just like we need knowledge to extract butter from milk and sugar from sugarcane. Interestingly, Gandhi's lineage can be traced back to Sant Dhyaneshwar himself. Talk about pedigree endorsing performance!

The third group of performers infused the evening with a dose of high-octane energy. This group of Khans (led by Shakur Khan) hailed from Rajasthan. The standout performer, for me at least, was Daevo Khan playing the Khadtal. The instrument demands movements not unlike using a stapler in an angry mood. At first, I was reminded of shirtless kids in the Belapur-Kurla local trains who would click filmy melodies out of two pieces of ceramic tiles. I now know that the genesis of those tiles is the Khadtal which, in the hands of an artist like Daevo Khan, is mesmerizing. This man demonstrated the process by which Man and Craft merge together. Apparently all that's required is to develop a mad relationship with the art form and also the ability to stay in the moment. Khan's jugalbandi with the dholak player whetted my appetite for more. Perhaps we'll see this man on a larger stage soon, bonding with the best percussionists in the world.

I confess to zoning out when the next performer - Parvathy Baul - came on stage. I'm still trying to figure out why this happened. Perhaps the subtlety of this music form was lost on me after the energetic performance of Rajasthanis (who, I forgot to mention, also sang a Baba Bulleh Shah song). Perhaps I and my friends began talking shop at this point. I started paying attention again only when Ms Baul, who was performing in a trance-like state, was distracted by the discordant toot of a passing train.

After the Baul came the whirling dervishes from Turkey. And since the hostess explained the ritualistic dance before it began, one could make enough sense to feel wonderment.
As the universe and everything in it revolves, so do the dervishes. But always in the counter clockwise direction - that way, they're circling the heart and thus embracing love. I also learnt that the dervishes always point to the skies with the open palm of their right hands even as their left hands form arches pointing to the earth. In this way, they're collecting blessings from God and distributing them amongst the mortals.
It was a good debut for me in the world of dervishes. I'm still wondering whether the powder that was sprinkled on the stage floor before the performance had any ethereal meaning. Or was that just showmanship?

Finally, the qawwals from Jaipur, led by Shameen and Nayeem Ajmeri, took the stage. What followed were three spirited qawwalis that, time and again, touched upon secularism. During one interjection, Nayeem Ajmeri spoke about the non-duality of the human condition, about commonalities that cannot be dissolved by religion. His nonchalant reference to Ka'aba-Kashi and other such beautiful word-pairs touched my heart. The final memory of the evening was of Shameen Ajmeri reproducing the sounds of ghungroos using his mouth and tongue.

Before revving back home, I took a final peek at the moon. It was clear as a limpid pool. The soulful prayers performed at Jayamahal Palace had cured it of all earthly influences. Or so I'd like to believe.