Kabir Mela: O.S. Arun


O.S. Arun‘s collection of Kabir bhajan’s is one of my favorite all time records. I posted this originally on my old blog, Washerman’s Dog, way back in 2011.  Feel free to revist it there.

download-2There is a lot of clacking and howling going on these days. The triumphal volume has really jacked up several notches of late.  The internet is burning hot with everyone telling everyone else the “Truth” about Osama and Obama. It’s a bloody racket.

Let’s leave the pundits, mullahs, ministers, mercenaries, killers and corpses behind for a while and listen to some real truth. (full post).




Track Listing:

01 Na Mein Dharmi

02 Beet Gaye Din

03 Mann Lago

04 Naherva

05 Hari Bolo Hari Bolo

06 Sadho

07 Guru Rang Laga

08 Dohe

09 Jai Jai Aarati


Kabir Mela: Abida Parveen


This is a famous and popular album, combining as it does the poetry of Kabir, the voice of Abida Parveen and the compositional flare of Gulzar.  The very definition of “triple threat”.


Abida Parveen needs no introduction. In a rough analysis she could be considered the female counterweight of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The Empress to his Emperor.  A huge figure with a massive ecstatic voice that towers/ed above all rivals and peers. Their dedication to singing the kalam of Sindh’s (Abida) and Punjab’s (Nusrat) many Sufi poet philosophers unequalled over the past 30 years. I have written in other places of what an impression she created on me the only time I saw her live (at a semi private function at Islamabad’s old Marriott Hotel) and won’t go over that again.  Though a friend contacted me the other day to wonder if I’d be interested in seeing her when she’s in Melbourne early next year!


Gulzar, one of India’s cinematic icon’s (his lyrics, including for Jai Ho, and music as well as scripts and direction are universally lauded) was born in Jhelum district in present-day Pakistan. One of the thousands of figures who made their careers and names in ‘Bollywood’ after the 1947 Partition of British India and who hailed originally from what is now Pakistan, Gulzar has been a champion of cross-border amity his entire life.



He conceived of this album and of Abida singing the dohe of Kabir. He selected the verses and composed the music.  Kabir’s writings have a special place in the Sikh religion, into which Gulzar was born in the mid-1930s.  Many of  Kabir’s sayings have been incorporated into the spiritual music as well as the scriptural writings of the Sikhs. So this is material that Gulzar has been exposed to since his childhood.

His deep voice opens each of the four tracks with a few words of praise, delivered in the crisp diction and efficient concision of the writer for both the poet and the singer. And as such these pithy introductions add their own nasha (intoxication) to the album.

Like the first album of Kabir’s music I shared, this one opens with his famous doha

Mann laago mero yaar fakiri mein
Mann laago mero yaar gareebi mein

Oh friend, my mind has
taken to living free!

This lyric speaks the joy of poverty, and the beauty of simplicity. [Here’s a nice explication of this bhajan if you’re interested.]

My personal favourite, however, is track 3:

Saahib mera ek hai, duja kaha na jaaye,
Duja Saahib jo kahun, saahib khada rachaaye.

My Lord is One, without a second,
If I see multiplicity, it is also my Lord’s play.

Maali aavat dekh ke, kaliyaan kare pukar,
Phool phool chun liye, kaal hamari baar.
Seeing the Master Gardener, the buds whisper to each other:
Fully blossomed ones are plucked away, our appointed day is near.
Chhah gayi chinta miti, manva beparvah
Jinko kachu na chaiye, woh hi Shahenshah.
If cravings are dissolved, worries go, mind becomes free,
He who wants nothing is surely the king of all kings.
Het preet sun jo mile, ta ko miliye dhaaye
Antar raakhe jo mile, taase mile balaaye.
You hasten to meet the ones who meet You with love,
Those who meet You with a pure heart, have indeed found a Friend unmatched.
Kabira te nar andh hai, guru ko kehte aur,
Har roothe Guru chhod hain, Guru roothe nahi chhod.
Kabir says, blinds are they who realize not the value of a true Master.
One may seek the shelter of God after displeasing God,
But there is no refuge after one is refused at the door of a Master.
Karta tha to kyun raha, ab kahe pachhtaye,
Bove pe babool ka, aam kahan se hoye.
Heedless I committed innumerable wrongs, now I suffer,
Nurturing the thistles of a barren tree, can one expect mango?
Sab Dharti kaagad karun, lekhan sab ban raaye,
Saat samand ki muss karun, Guru gun likha na jaye.
If the entire earth is a writing tablet, all the forest be its pen,
all waters of seven seas be its ink – even then the Lord’s praises remain unfinished.
Ab guru dil mein dekheya, gaavan ko kachhu naahin,
Kabira jab tum gaavate, tab jana Guru nahi.
Once the Lord is recognized within the heart, there is nothing left to be told,
Kabir, whenever you tried to utter the mysteries, the knowledge of your Master vanishes.
Main laaga uss ek se, ek bhaya sab maahin,
Sab mera main saban ka, tihan doosara naahin.
I am attached with that One, the One who is with all,
When everyone is mine, and I am everyone’s, there ends all duality.
Ja marne se jag dare, mere man anand,
Kab mar hun kab paahun, puran parmanand.
The world trembles at the thought of death, but its a matter of joy for me,
When shall I die, when shall I find the perfect joy (of the vision of the Beloved)?
Sab ban to chandan nahi, shoore ke dal nahi,
sab samundra moti nahi yun Sadhu jag mahi.
Neither all forests are of sandalwoods, nor all teams are full of valiant warriors,
nor all seas are filled with pearls; likewise the real gnostics of God are truly rare.
Jab hum jag mein pag dharyo, sab hanse hum roye,
Kabira ab aisi kar chalo, paache hansi na hoye.
When you came to this mortal world, everyone around you were happy to see you
and you were the only one weeping.
Kabir, now be in this world such that none laugh at your behind
but you yourself depart the world laughing, leaving all weeping, mourning.
Agun kiye to bahu kiye, karat na mani haar,
Bhaven banda bhakshe, bhaaven gardan maar.
Tirelessly so many misdeeds have been committed,
Now that I’ve realized O Lord, do as You please.
Sadhu bhukha bhaav ka, dhan ka bhookha naahin,
Dhan ka bhookha jo phire, so to Saadhu nahi.
Having no appetite for material wealth, true saints are hungry only for love,
Those who thirst after material wealth are not saintly at all.
Saahib sun sab hott hai, bande te kachhu naahin,
Rai te parbat kare, parbat rai mahi.
Listen friend! This world has nothing for you, vanity of vanities.
Seriously narrow is the passage to salvation, smaller even than the mustard seed.
Jyun til mahi tel hai, jyun chakmak mein aag,
Tera Sain tujh mein base, jaag sake to jaag.
Oil is found Inside the sesame seed, inside flinstone is fire, like that
Your Lord is within, now awaken to That truth if you dare!
Track Listing:
 01. Man Laago Yaar Fakiri Mein
02. Souun to Sapne Milun
03. Sahib Mera Ek Hai
04. Bhala Hua Meri Matki Phut Gayi

Kabir Mela: Kaluram Bamaniya


Sant Kabir


Baazigar ka baandra/ jeeba man ke sath

Naanaa naach nachaay kari/rokhe apnaa haath

[Like the magician’s monkey/man is enslaved to his mind

It makes him dance to its tune/and keeps him tied, you find]


Indians have been living by the pithy sayings of Kabir, such as the doha above, for hundreds of years. And probably even when he was yet alive, in the early 15th century, many of his sayings and verses were already set to music.  The tradition of Kabir bhajans is a long and beloved one. And one that truly crosses all sectarian boundaries.  Equally revered by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, indeed anyone who has even an inkling of spiritual curiousity and mystical inclination, the writings of north India’s greatest mystic have been and continue to be a source of deep spiritual insight and comfort.

Over the years I have collected several recordings from across the subcontinent of Kabir vaani and I thought it might be interesting to share these. To explore and enjoy the different approaches that singers and musicians from all across India and Pakistan have used to express their inspiration.

Like that of most ancient mystics the biography of Kabir is short on emperical facts. But like the others it bears the expected colourings of the disciples’ myth. Therefore, its not surprising that this great spiritual figure was said to have been born in the centre of India’s spritiual Universe, Varanasi.  The city of light. The abode of Shiva.

Like Moses he was abandoned by his mother who set him afloat a raft made of reeds down the sacred Ganga nadi. Not before long he was rescued by a childless Muslim weaver who with his wife raised him as a follower of Allah.

Like Jesus, the Hebrew carpenter’s son of Galilee, who debated philosophy with the Jewish elders in the synagogue while not yet a teenager,  Kabir was precocious. He spurned all formal learning in favor of the mystical path of intuition and longing. He engaged from a young age with all the great sages who visited Varanasi, drawing on but also refining their wisdom.

He was an iconoclast. Rejecting the hidebound, hand-me-down rituals of the all creeds his sayings and recitations obliterated all except the human heart hungry for the unnamed, unknowable, ungraspable Nirgun.

The spirit of Kabir may (or may not) have originated in very heart of the north India plains but it spread all over the subcontinent. And one of the places where it found especially fertile ground is the central Indian region of Malwa.  This volcanic plateau centered around western Madhya Pradesh and southern Rajasthan has been a distinct cultural and political region for centuries. Ujjain is the old historical center of the region, famous since the time of the Buddha. The modern city of Indore is today the main city. In addition to a rich legacy of Hindu science, culture and politics the region is equally renowned for its folk singing. And within that tradition a group of people who uphold the nirgun philosophy expressed so powerfully and simply in the words of Kabir.

download-14Kaluram Bamaniya, whose recording we commence this series with, belongs to a vibrant tradition of singing bhakti poets such as Kabir, Gorakhnath, Bananath and Meera in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. He comes from a family of farmers, but has taken to singing as a full time occupation himself. From the early age of 9, Kaluram started accompanying his father, grandfather and uncle on the manjiras [finger cymbals].When he was 13 years old he ran away from home and went to Rajasthan, where he absorbed a wide repertoire of songs from an itinerant Mirasi singer Ram Niwas Rao for 1-2 years. For Kaluram, singing Kabir is not merely a profession, it’s a way of life. “You get a lot of power, you get fearless by singing Kabir,” he says. His impish wit adds colour to the direct simplicity and soulfulness of his songs. While continuing to be part of the satsang tradition in Malwa, Kaluram and his troupe give many public performances in the state and the country. He sings and plays the 5-stringed tambura and khadtaal and is accompanied by his troupe on the dholak, violin and manjiras.

I am travelling to parts of the world where internet connections are weak and unpredictable so cannot say when the next instalment of Kabir songs will be posted but in the meantime, I know you will love Shri Kaluram sahib singing his heart out.


Track Listing:

01 Lan Laagyo Mero Fakiri Mein

02 Surta Ko Karna Hai Byaah

03 Piya Mera Jaaagta

04 Santaa Thaaro Melo Hai Bhaav Ro

05 Jaagrit Rehna Re Nagar Mein Chor Aavega

06 Ab Thaara Laal Samandadaaraa Maay



Kahat Kabir: Pandit Chhannulal Mishra


Pt. Chhannulal Mishra

Varnasi is an old city. Some say the second oldest in the world; Damascus in Syria usually taking the honours. It is a favourite spot of mine, one I visited at least once a year as a boy between the ages of 7-17 and one to which I return everytime I find myself in India.

One of the enduring pleasures of the place is rambling through the narrow urban canyons of stone, wood and concrete that make up the old city down by the river Ganga. These streets are called gali (lanes) and home to neighborhoods of craftsmen, confectioners, musicians, ashrams, religious people of all faiths, wrestlers, instrument and incense makers, barbers, sari sellers, kitemakers and guardians of burning ghats.

Any time of day you happen to find yourself in the galis you will hear the sort of music I share today. It will waft out of windows of music schools, from the courtyards of temples or from under open air recitals in wide spots in the alleys.

These songs you could classify as bhajan, the simple devotional songs usually associated with Hindus, though technically they are the sayings of the mystic poet and seer Kabir (15th Cent.) who was born and lived for many years in Varanasi.  Kabir is one of those characters who is claimed and embraced and celebrated (in song, scripture and in legend) as equally Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.  A truly universal messenger.

And this music does not require a knowledge of medieval Hindi or any faith. If you love music that calms or music that inspires or brings joy and peace you’ll connect to this music.

The songs of this gorgeous album are sung by another great son of Varanasi, Pandit Chhannulal Mishra. I must thank my dear friend Hanif Haji for gifting this album to me. It is a wonderful addition to my small but growing collection of Kabir dohe (couplets).

I have no doubt you’ll fall in love with this music.


Track Listing:

01 Kaise Sajan Ghar Jaibay Ho Rama

02 Man Pachataiyhay Avsar Beetay

03 Bhajo Ray Bhiya Ram Govind Hari

04 Bhai Ray So Guru Satya Kahavay

05 Ray Ma n Murakh Janam Gavayo

06 Avadhu Bhajan Bhed Nayara



Wrathful yet Compassionate: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi


Though the centerpiece of this wonderful recording is best suited for later in the day then mid-sunny-afternoon I can’t get enough of it. I’ve been listening to Joshi’s rendering of Raga Puriya Dhanshree on heavy rotation for the past several weeks.

I am NO expert in dissecting the intricate workings of various ragas. I tend to go for voices and let their owner’s work their magic.  I understand that Puriya Dhanshree is a complex raga with much scope for expression as well as emotional layering. From dark and wrathful to compassionate and more.

I have found this raga and Joshi’s singing of it to be reassuring and all encompassing. As if it were a dark but not necesarily threatening but deep cave.  You don’t conquer such a place but rather let it reveal itself, its inner passages and concealed redoubts. Its a slow but intoxicating process.

I have spoken in other places of my love affair with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and only refer you to another’s loving attribution to him.



Track Listing:

  1. Puriya Dhanshree
  2. Tulsidas ji ka Bhajan
  3. Marathi Abhang