Dissolving Boundaries: Kabir songs from Malwa by Prahlad Tipanya

24 Nov 2010
Conference Centre, Auditorium 1, Behind Nirulas, Delhi University - 110007.

Prahlad Tipanya is one of the most compelling folk voices of Kabir in India today who combines singing and explanation of Kabir bhajans in the Malwi folk style from Madhya Pradesh. He is performing at a special concert being organized collaboratively by Department of Psychology, Jubilee Hall Students’ Union, and Department of Hindi at Delhi University on the evening of November 24. The programme starts at 5.30 pm, and entry is open to all. For details, email apurvchauhan@gmail.com

Prahlad Singh Tipanya first heard the tamboura, a 5-string plucked instrument, in 1978, and was captivated. He was 24 years old then, a village schoolteacher and singing was not an inherited family tradition. However, this became a defining moment for the way his life was going to unfold. For it was through the tamboura, that Prahladji encountered the world of Kabir. The words of this 15th-century saint-poet are sung in village after village by scores of bhajan mandlis who have kept alive an unbroken oral tradition of singing Kabir’s poetry for over 600 years. Prahladji entered this world of all-night bhajan sessions as a learner. Two and a half decades later, he is a household name, his audiocassettes can be heard in home after home, and most will acknowledge him as the man who has deeply impacted and contributed to a resurgence of oral traditions of Kabir singing in Malwa region, in Madhya Pradesh.

Prahladji combines a powerful singing style with a magnetic ability to communicate with his audiences. His concerts are more than entertaining music. They are powerful engagements with the spiritual and social thought of Kabir. In Malwa region, he is admired not only as a singer, but also revered as one who propagates with great personal intensity and engagement, the spiritual message of Kabir. His concerts stress the need to rise above petty divisiveness, sectarianism, empty ritualism and idolatry and the need to adopt love as the ultimate religion.

Unswayed by the trends of mixing filmy tunes and synthetic sounds in folk music, Prahladji has resolutely nurtured a Malwi folk music idiom. A new sound he is responsible for introducing is that of the violin, which has now become a trend for bhajan mandlis of his area. He performs with his troupe consisting usually of 7-8 members, including the tamboura, kartal, manjira, dholak, harmonium, timki and violin.

He has performed to audiences at a state, national and international level. In 2003 his troupe performed in the UK, and also toured the US for over 2 months. He has performed since 1980 on All India Radio stations in Indore, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Patna, Lucknow and Kanpur, and is the recipient of several awards.

In 1997, Prahladji set up the Kabir Smarak Seva Shodh Sansthan, on a plot of land granted to him by the state government opposite his home in the village of Luniya Khedi. This registered trust organizes an annual event, where several thousands congregate to listen to Kabir’s words through bhajans and discourses by gathered singers and spiritual leaders. A fledgling school is already in operation and further plans include a library of Kabir-related writings and a meditation hall.