|Meera and Kabir|
The western districts of the Indian state Madhya Pradesh are known as Malwa. One of the many ancient kingdoms of India, the Malwa region blends Gujarati, Rajasthani and Marathi culture, language and cuisine into a unique regional tradition.
Indore, a huge industrial and commercial center is the biggest city in Madhya Pradesh but the glory of the region is the ancient capital Ujjain. It was here that India’s greatest monarch, Ashoka, served as governor in his youth and it was in Ujjain that the Homer of India, Kalidasa, wrote his ancient plays and poetry. Ujjain was also where the art of perfumery was perfected and where it is said, they could make perfume that smelt like rain falling on dust.
In contemporary times Malwa is home to some of India’s brightest lights of the arts: Pandit Kumar Gandharva (classical vocalist), Lata Mangeshkar (Queen of Bollywood), Kishore Kumar (Prince of Bollywood), Rahul Dravid (cricket) and Johny Walker (the Bollywood comedy actor, not the whiskey) and M.F. Hussain (India’s greatest contemporary painter).
The region has been ruled by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims and the British at some point and its tribes and local cultures draw upon the bordering regions of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. A strong folk music tradition exists here in the Vindhya Mountains and their surrounding plains. Within this tradition are the group of singers renown for singing songs of the great bakhti poets, especially Kabir. Collectively known as the Nirgun (the One without Attributes; God) singers, they are led by an amazing singer, Prahlad Tipaniya. A Dalit (formerly known as ‘untouchable’ or Harijan) with no musical tradition in his family, he came across the poetry of Kabir as a young man and has since, in effect, become a disciple of the 15th century weaver-poet.
Tonight’s first selection is a selection of mystical songs by Malwa’s Nirgun singers. (Prahlad Tipaniya above) This is real folk religious music. Sung with minimal and entirely traditional instrumental accompaniment, the songs are heartfelt, uplifting and enchanting. If you’ve ever travelled for days on an Indian train or through the villages these sounds will be entirely familiar. Devotees singing their hearts out to their God.
The second set highlights India’s nightingale, Lata Mangeshkar, a native of Indore, singing several poems of the mystical woman poet, Meera. A high born daughter of a Rajput chieftain, Meera, was a devotee of Lord Krishna, who is said to have composed more than a thousand bhajans (hymns) during her lifetime. Along with Kabir and Surdas, Meera is regarded as one of the greatest mystical poets of India.
The Rajputana had remained fiercely independent of the Delhi Sultanate, the Islamic regime that otherwise ruled Hindustan after the conquests of Timur. But in the early 16th century AD the central Asian conqueror Babur laid claim to the Sultanate and some Rajputs supported him while others ended their lives in battle with him. Her husband's death in battle (in 1527 AD) was only one of a series of losses Meera experienced in her twenties. She appears to have despaired of loving anything temporal and turned to the eternal, transforming her grief into a passionate spiritual devotion that inspired in her countless songs drenched with separation and longing.
Meera's devotion to Krishna was at first a private thing but at some moment it overflowed into an ecstasy that led her to dance in the streets of the city. Her brother-in-law, the new ruler of Chittorgarh, was Vikramaditya, an ill-natured youth who strongly objected to Meera's fame, her mixing with commoners and carelessness of feminine modesty. There were several attempts to poison her. Her sister-in-law Udabai is said to have spread defamatory gossip.
According to some myths Meera's brother-in-law Vikramaditya, who later became king of Chittor, after Bhojraj's death, tried to harm Meera in many ways like as follows:
▪ The famous one is that he mixed poison in the prasadam or chandanamritam of Krishna and made her drink that. But by God's grace, Krishna changed it to Amrit.
▪ Secondly, he pinned iron nails in Meera's bed, but again by God's grace it turned into rose petals.
Another one is that he put a snake in a flower basket and said her that it's a gift from him to her Lord, but when she opened it it actually became a gift- a garland.
Meera's songs are in a simple form called a pada (verse), a term used for a small spiritual song, usually composed in simple rhythms with a repeating refrain, collected in her Padavali. The extant versions are in a Rajasthani and Braj, a dialect of Hindi spoken in and around Vrindavan (the childhood home of Krishna), sometimes mixed with Rajasthani.
Lata’s interpretation of these bhajans is, as expected, polished, as all things surrounding Bollywood royalty are wont to be. But that doesn’t detract from there austere beauty and it is always great to see playback singers doing things that have nothing to do with their day jobs. Lata’s voice is gorgeous and it rises and lifts beautifully to the spiritual heights (and depths) of the occasion.
Nirgun Singers of Malwa
01 Satguru Se Milwa Chalo Re (Kaluram Bamnia)
02 Rang Mahal Mein (Prahlad Singh Tipaniya)
03 Bina Bhed Bahar Mat Bhatko (Kaluram Bamnia)
04 Meera Zahar Ka Pyala (Bheru Singh Chauhan)
05 Koi Sunta Hai Gurgyani (Prahlad Singh Tipaniya)
06 Lere Naam Lere Naam (Sundar Lal Malvi)
07 Inka Bhed Bata Mere Avdhu (Prahlad Singh Tipaniya)
08 Phagan Aayo Re (Bheru Singh Chauhan)
09 Ya Gadi Hara Des Ki (Hansraj Malvi)
10 Har Har Maroonga (Prahlad Singh Tipaniya)
11 Tu Mat Jago Piyaso (Kaluram Bamnia)
Lata Sings Meera
01 Sanvaro Nanknandan
02 Kinun Sang Khelun Holi
03 Mhara Re Girdhar Gopal
04 Thane Kanee Kanee Sunava
05 Maee Mhano Supnama Parnare Dinanath
06 Oji Hari Kit Gaye
07 Ramaiya Bin Nind Na Aave
08 Sanvara Mari Preet Nibhajonji