Listen and you will hear, listen to yourself, and you will find the ultimate truth. Kabir in all his simplicity and profoundness, resounded loud and clear in the voice of Prahlad Singh Tipanya, as he connected with the audience at Tagore Theatre Saturday with his singing and explanation of Kabir’s bani in the folk style of the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh.
Ek Shaam Kabir Ke Naam, by the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi had Tipanya and his group translate the 15th century mystic poet and saint’s social and spiritual thoughts into a soulful experience, one that transcended the barriers of language, region, and borders of caste, class, creed.
For decades, Tipanya and his troupe of singers and instrumentalists have been travelling across the country and abroad, taking Kabir’s philosophy far and wide. It all began in 1978, smiles Tipanya, when he heard the sound of the tambura, and was so captivated by it that he immediately wanted to learn the instrument’s intricacies. “I was told I would learn it quicker, if I sang something along, and I took a bhajan from the person who was playing the tambura, which was of Kabir, but was not in the books. I learnt it, sang it and with it something completely changed, for it took me to Kabir, forever.”
Tipanya, a teacher, retired yesterday from his services as a headmaster and as is quick to point out, that he is not a trained singer and his knowledge of music is limited. Hear him sing, and you will not believe that statement, as with complete honesty, range, dedication and intensity, in pure Malwi folk, Tipanya makes Kabir so lucid.
Using manjira, dholak, harmonium, timki and violin, with Tipanya playing the tambura and kartal, the music gives the words a new dimension and effect. “Kabir is a yatra, an ongoing journey you can never learn enough about. Kabir’s teachings are a darshan of one’s life, an experience that gives energy, for Kabir binds people. He will always be alive, as hundreds of bhajan mandlis in villages sing Kabir’s poetry and have kept alive an oral tradition that is more than 600-year old, and we are continuing the tradition,” smiles Tipanya, who was born in a village in Ujjain.
Kabir, like Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid, Nanak, says Tipanya, is relevant for all times. “These were saints who were ahead of their times, had a knowledge of things earlier, and his words have such power and truth, that they can transform our lives,” Tipanya added. Working with people from different sections of society and taking Kabir to people to change their lives for the better, Tipanya talks about Kabir’s thoughts, the need to discard ritualism and to live as one.
Awarded the Padma Shri, Tipanya has established Kabir Smarak Seva Shodh Sansthan, and organises events where thousands come together to listen to Kabir’s bhajans. “We now have as many as 110 Kabir mandlis taking our effort further, and we have opened a school where we are teaching underprivileged children from different communities and giving the young an introduction to Kabir through music, books and poetry.