A nip in the air, calmness in the atmosphere and the right notes of soulful folk music playing in the backdrop, a dawn concert here at the ongoing 12th edition of Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) music festival was the stuff that dreams are made of.
In Jaswant Thada, the royal cenotaph that offered an impressive view of the rising sun, music blended with spiritual message filled the the air as words of folk singers like Mahesha Ram, Baghe Khan and Gemra Ram rose above the bounds of religion and serenaded not the gods, but the idea that is “Nirgun Bhakti”.
“Nirgun doesn”t have a body, or a soul. There is no beginning to it as there is no end. It goes above and beyond religion, caste, and community,” Baghe Khan, the famous Manganiyar singer, told PTI.
“Nirgun or nirakar is something that doesn”t have a form, or colour. It isn”t born, it doesn”t die. It doesn”t have anything to do with anyone, it doesn”t believe in a religion, or even a family,” he added.
Nirgun bhakti, propagated by Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir, the idea of a formless and benign divinity, a friend figure. Like many other practitioners of spiritualism, Kabir too believed in the “formlessness” of God, which is reflected in his poetry.
The artistes while playing traditional instruments like tambura, kamaicha, manjira, and dholak, gave emotive rendition of many Nirgun bhajans like “Joban dhan pavna, do hi din chaar” or “Papi mohe raj karanta dekhya”, which talked about the futility of taking pride in youth, and how even evil rulers eventually have to deal with the fate of time, respectively.
Talking about the relevance of songs written by 15th-century poet Kabir and other Bhakti movement proponents, Gemra Ram, a folk artist from the Meghwal community, said the growing “hatred towards each other” is the reason why we need these songs today more than ever.
“These days people take offense over so many things, religion or what not. They hate each other for their opinions. The one who follows Nirgun does not feel anger, does not feel hatred for others. Since he doesn”t believe in such divides, nothing of it affects him,” the 60-year-old vocalist said.
Though agreeing with his co-artiste in describing Nirgun as someone who is above everyone else, folk singer Mahesha Ram said the importance of guru stands true in this belief too and is not forgotten one bit.
“We have songs that are sung to welcome the guru, or to alarm others that the guru has arrived, bhajans about what he has brought for everyone and what he”ll take from us,” he said.
Having sung these bhajans for a larger part of their lives — 48 years for Gemra Ram alone — many of the artistes, though hesitantly, did admit that the popularity of traditional folk songs is on decline.
But then nothing of that disheartens a pragmatist like Baghe Khan.
“Everything that has come into this world will cease to exist one day. Same goes with these songs too, that were written hundreds of years ago. That”s how life goes on,” Khan, also a folk singer, said.
The five-day annual event, kick-started on October 10, will see a total of over 250 artistes this year, not just from the desert state but all over the country together with international artistes from Poland, Hungary, Armenia, Cuba, Ireland, Switzerland, Reunion Island, Israel and Mali.
Among other Rajasthani artistes at the 2019 edition of the festival will be “Jasnath ji ke Bhope”, a community of priests who observe a culture of walking on fire; Mohini Devi, a singer in Jogi Kalbeliya tradition; vocalist and kamaicha (a bowed instrument) maestro Hakam Khan Manganiyar; exponent of dhol thali nritya Rawata Ram Shekhawati among others.