a doha i shared with hema

सावन  केरा  सेहरा, बूंद पड़ा आस्मां
साड़ी दुनिया विष्णव भाई, गुरु नहीं लगा कान 

saawan kaera sehra, bund paraa asmaan
saari duniya vaishnava bhayee, guru nahi lagaa kaan

Twice a day this little girl used to come  to my house (in 2009 for a few months, till August) to help me with the chores. Hearing me talk so much about Kabir, her own curiosity is roused now and she wishes to know better; and I am the happier for this. She borrowed a book from me- the Bijak and took it home. Then I asked her what she understood...

Instead, I proposed, why not I choose a doha for her everyday and she learn it and also understand the meaning of it everyday and then let me occasionally check how much you remembered? That way in a week she would learn seven dohae and in a month, at least 30?!

Doha is a couplet and Kabir's language is full of them, explaining simple things in simple ways succintly.
Starting out as we did in this rainy, monsoon season...this is the doha my eyes fell upon and i chose it for her to absorb and explained the meaning too. I roughly translate the meaning here, though I am unable to do a poetic translation myself.

Rainy clouds have come and cluster around in the sky. Just like a groom wearing a sehra* looks so beautiful and majestic, so does this formation in the sky and then raindrops come pouring down. Similarly says Kabir, the world is suddenly full of so many teachers and preachers and the entire world is filled with folks who are vaishanavas (meaning devotees- technically, bhaktas of the Hindu god Vishnu). But they have yet to find the true master whose truth will reach them instantly, and free them of their ignorance.


a view of the chakki and my passing thoughts on the matter

Chakki Hath
Originally uploaded by shane5ab
this is a foto of the chakki. call it grindstone or flour-mill . This was meant to go with the blog post about churning and the kabir doha there.( but taking permissions from the photographer makes it another post)
चलती चक्की देख के दिया कबीरा रोये
दो पाटन के बीच में, बाकी बचा न कोए 
chalti chakki dekh ke, diya kabira roye
do paatan ke beech mmain, baaki bacha na koye.

In this context; though I have interpreted the lines differently in the previous blogpost, one would be reminded that according to tradition in India, the path of the householder is considered the highest for any human being. Kabir himself chose to be a householder and not just a jogi with no family.

A householder is always split between opposites- in demands on his/her time or energy. For eg. a son may be split between the love of his parents or his children, a woman maybe torn between the love of her own parents or parents-in-law (I am deliberately taking the patriarchal view here, because tradition demands that a woman leave her parents' home to go into her husband's. In reality, this is a journey of the individual soul where it is split from the supreme. As this is a longer discussion I cannot do it here. The home of the 'beloved'/husband is union with divine- the original meaning of yoga. Marriage is the union of the opposites within the same human being- the merger of polarities, into a unified Self)

So according the social tradition, those who have been through the grindstone of life, come and bless the ones who are newly getting in there (this foto is showing festivities surrounding marriage in a neighbourhood. click the foto link to read the explanation offered by the photographer) Implying, that now you are ready to be pounded by life, but when you do get crushed at least something useful will come out of it. You will be more useful as flour than as grain and you will be of use to someone: to fulfill some of their needs. So we who have been through the grind ourselves welcome you and bless you to come into the highest that a human being could be- a householder.

So why does Kabir have to weep over the subject?
I guess he says so because the process of grinding is a very painful exercise, where every second of time you are repeatedly being crushed from here- there and you are being annhilated by the world around you: to fit you from your singular self to a self which is more integrated and better suited for the needs of society, starting from the smallest unit of it- the family. What else could it be? (I am sure, the scholars in Hindi or Philosophy would have something more to say. Cannot be entirely different here)


the mythology behind 'churning' and what kabir says about it!

Life churns each one of us...do you realise that? Few would be spared that. When I look at everything around, can I forget even for a moment that every one suffers. So while one suffers in health, the other in finances, one in relationships, another in family affairs and yet another in the emptiness of his soul. We are all constantly churned by life. And funnily enough, each one of us believes that my suffering is the greatest and nothing can come close to it. Only the wise ones would be spared this ignorance. We all have our own axes to grind and most would do it with a scowl on their face. Yet, when you ask them how they are doing, the most oft heard sentence is,
"I am doing quite well!!!" or even the hyperbole, TOP OF THE WORLD!!!

Kabir says about this (which most who know a little about Kabir would know anyways)
chalti chakki dekh ke, diya kabira roye
do paatan ke beech mein, baaki bachaa na koye

I translate this in verse
watching the grindstone grind, kabir weeps in anguish
for in this world, nothing can bypass the process of being crushed.

my interpretation
Grindstone is a metaphor for two sides of life which are always together, inseparable and any who meets one Has To meet the other too- a symbol of the play of opposites in life: light and darkness, joy and sorrow, birth and death, failure and success, agony and ecstasy...you name it. The list can go on and on. So, when we see the face of one, the other is in-built! Isn't the sun accompanied by the darkness of the night, the head by the tail? But the ignorant one shall weep about this polarity. For, the mind only wants the easier option or the body only wants that situation where it is comfortable, happy and prospering! Purely my view.

this is a link- please click and connect to see the beautiful interpretation this website gives
In Hindu mythology, we know the story of the churning of ocean, when the devas combat the asuras- the gods, the demons. Mythology is nothing but stories coded to show us our own hidden propensities. The godly qualities are within us, as well as the demonic. Each one of us will constantly be dangling between the two and there is an entire spectrum...from pure good to pure evil...When you become purely good, you become like god and the opposite makes you the devil.

In the story of the churning, the warring sides use the sheshnaag- the serpent as the rope with which they would go about the churning process. The serpent symbol is also another significant symbol here as the serpent is seen as a being who is strong enough to be pulled on opposite sides in this play of maya- the mind or the psyche. According to me, this serpent is the viveka- or the ability of discernment OR reason within each OR even the higher Self. In mythological traditions the serpent is seen as a symbol of healing (coiled serpent on logo-es of doctors and hospitals) wisdom and the fluidity of life.( today, 31st January 2011, I have understood the symbolism of the serpent a bit more deeply. but now I am not ready to revise this text about the reason why serpent appears so frequently in myths, dreams and stories)

Significantly enough, the myth of churning also gives the solution (which is why the myth is coded; so that it is not easily understood!) When such a one who is already established within himself, the one who is at peace with himself- a Shiva*, comes forth he can drink the poison the ocean churns out first of all- by transcending the dance of the opposites. Poison is the ugliness or the froth that comes out when the mind goes into the play of opposites- the doubts, the fears, the schisms, the hurt, the failures, the repressed memories, the abuses; not only for an individual but an entire species**...as they rise to the surface first. In this churning of the unconscious, the Shiva as one's own higher Self has to drink it first, so that the process of unearthing or enlightenment should go ahead to its logical culmination.

That is how it is in human life. To look at your own self is a most difficult task. Instead one preferes to chase this or that outside- a job, a partner, a prospect, a dream...anything to escape oneself. And every time you are inspired to look at yourself, the poison that rises to the surface scares the hell out of you!! You seek refuge in liquor, in the disco, in pubs and in parties, in shopping, in loud calling out to god in the temple or your home- to deafen yourself from all the noise the inner withdrawl will bring...for who can look at one's ugliness and accept that you can be ugly, weak or extinguishable too (Remember Oscar Wilde's The Story of Dorian Gray?) I hope that says it all about the churning.

Only the brave, the fearless, the one who is anchored within him/her-Self, the one who has bridged that duality and sees the Oneness in everything-the Shiva- shall taste the nectar which all desire- the elixir of immortality. For then, you realise you can never be born and never will you die, for though the body may perish, you are not just the body:) You will live on in trees and birds, in children and in insects and in smiles that you leave behind on the lips of another, in the hearts of all who you touch as your own Self.

Meanwhile, switching back to the mundane world and the foolishness that all is well. Masking the truth behind saying, I am well and wasn't better ever, to tell yourself and not the other that you are all broken up within and shattered really, Kabir says in one of his saakhis
कुसल कुसल ही पूछते, कुसल भाया न कोए
ज़रा मुई न जग मुआ, कुसल कहाँ से होए.
kusal kusal hi poochhte, jag mein raha na koye
jaraa mui na bhay mua, kusal kahaan se hoye

my poetic translation and interpretation
enquiring about the wellness of each, nobody remained well;
neither their delusion went, nor the multitude of fears-
(so how can they be well at all?! )
The commonest thing you ask on meeting another is, 'how are you?' or how do you do? In modern lingo, Howdee? And yet, nobody who is here in the world is going to last forever. So how can you be good all the time? For, all the time you are disintegrating and breaking down. It is another matter you cannot see this or admit it to yourself! Can a machine go out of use, if it is functioning perfectly well? Then who are you hoodwinking by saying you are perfectly well? Your delusion, that you are perfect remains, because you keep reminding yourself all the time that all is well, when nothing really is. Until you get over this duality and see the truth, overcome the fear of facing your Self. Everything is changing- but you wish to be permanent! So says me the 21st century Kabir!! :)

*Shiva- the legend of shiva- do read the last line of this piece to understand what i have to say http://www.holymtn.com/gods/shiva.htm

** This is the reason why we dislike, fear or hate what we do not comprehend and we wish to exterminate it, for it brings our fears out- whether it is the fear of another religion, region, language, caste, gender (gays etc) nationality or a racial stock of people.


a lyre to the master

master, contain me
at the feet of thine form,
in the spark of thine eyes,
on the palms of thine stretched hands
in the heart of thine emotive soul…

for my disintegrative body crumbles and whithers
my ego ebbs and rises
my eyes vacant’n tongue parched
waits for thee
waits for thee
master contain me-

27th feb 2000

madhmaad sarang

This is the first raga of my life, that I learnt with the blessings of my inner guru. And who else's words would I use to awaken the raga within me, except for my own resident-guru Kabir.

The beauty of this raga is that it is a simple pentatonic melody- meaning a raga of five notes - sa ri ma pa ni, where all notes are pure ones except for a komal ni. The same notes are the ones we use for raga Megh- immortalised by Amir Khan Saheb, the main guru who awoke the Khyal within my soul. I can almost never stop singing his bandish- barkha rut aayi, boondan jhar lai (taught to me by yet another of my gurus, Amarjeet didi, in the Indore gharana tradition of Khan saheb) ...in vilambit tempo.

The guru of music for me, in most of my adult times for a lot of reasons, who i have time and again returned back to for little doubts and querries is Madhuri aunty (Smt.Madhuri Dandage, now based in Pune) For the last several years, I have been discussing ragas with her over the phone itself and when I touched this raga (imagine my fear, trying to dare to learn something by myself, when the tradition instills in you a need for a live teacher) I was unsure how to tread between Megh and Madhmaad Sarang. Aunty told me, with the crystal clarity she has...in one sentence how the usage of notes is different in ragas of the Malhar (Megh is an abbreviated name for Megh Malhar) family and Sarang family. That was it...viola! I sing Madhmaad Sarang with the blessings of both of these gurus...

in vilambit tempo, ektal-
हरी हीरा जन जौहरी, ले ले मांडी हात
जब रे मिलेगा पारखी, तब हीरा का saat 
hari heera jan jauhari, lae lae maandi haat
jab re milega paarakhi, tab heera ka saat
(Kabir Saakhi)

As Drut- in Punjabi taal
जो साँचा सो केवल राम
औं देव सों नाही काम 
Jo saancha so kewal ram
Aan dev soan naahi kaam.

after all these inputs can i really claim that i learnt this raga by myself!!!
btw, i did this composition in the summer of 2008- march or april.

hai koi ram naam bataawe

है कोई राम नाम बतावे
बस्तु अगोचर मोहें लखावै
राम नाम सब कोई बखाने
राम नाम का मर्म न जाने;

ऊपर की मोहें बात न भावे
देखे गावे तो सुख पावे
कहे कबीर कछु कहत न आवे
परिचय बिना मर्म को पावे.
hai koi ram naam bataawae
bastu agochar mohein lakhaawae
ram naam sab koi bakhaanae
ram naam ka maram na jaanae;

upar ki mohein baat na bhaavae
dekhe gavae so sukh paavae
kahae kabir kachhu kahat naa aawae
parachai bina maram ko paawae.

my poetic translation-
Can anyone tell me the Name of my god?
Show me the one who cannot be seen
Everyone calls Him out loud
Yet none know the depth of what It is!

The superficial doesn't interest me
Until i see for myself, I don't believe and only then I sing His name
Says Kabir, mere calling out a Name is not enough
To him who has to know It shall be revealed, even if he doesn't know a single loud syllable.

my interpretation:
This is a voice of challenge. Kabir challenges anyone to tell him, to show him, what is the nature of God, Ram as he calls him (not the Ram of the Ramayana, mind you). He says, 'everyone is calling out the name of ram, and so many are making so much noise about it too. but few knew what it takes to know the lord' In other words he is taking a dig at the ones who are making money out of the name of the Lord. And then he says, that the more you talk about it the more you turn me off, becuase your talk is nothing more than babble; until i see it I won't believe it. Just saying on surface is no sign you know anything really. For that whom the Lord chooses to grace with knowledge of Him (the Lord) it shall be revealed without so much talk, and the rest can make the noise!
In this context there is many a connected bhajan where Kabir laughs or mocks such people who make noise in the name of calling to the Lord (how contextual it is in the modern times with the booming industry of spirituality!!) and I have rendered them in my Kahe Kabir album. They are-
  • naa jaane tera sahib kaisa hai
  • koi peevae re ras ram naam ka, jo peevae so jogi re
  • munn na rangaaye, rangaaye jogi kapda
In some more time I will put all these lyrics up here.

Music and the Muse- An Identity for Kumar Gandharva

The Music and the Muse: An Identity for Kumar Gandharva: Psychological Studies, Journal of the National Academy of Psychology, India, Vol. 50., No. 2 &3, 2005. ( this is a published article and these are the details of the publication)

Prateeksha Sharma, New Delhi

This paper is an attempt to trace two aspects of creative artists: ‘Bildungsroman’ (novel of formation) and ‘Künstlerroman’ (novel of the artist). The subject of the former is the development of the protagonist’s mind and character, in the passage from childhood through varied experiences- and often through spiritual crisis-into maturity, which usually involves recognition of one’s identity and role in the world. The latter, the ‘artist novel’ represents the growth of an artist from childhood into the stage of maturity that signalizes the recognition of the protagonist’s artistic destiny and mastery of an artistic craft.

KEW WORDS: Identity, Kabir, Kumar Gandharva, Music,

Generations of Indians, for hundreds of years, have grown up singing Kabir, from oral traditions to classical traditions, from rustic village mandalis to sounds polished and honed through years of riyaaz and sadhana. Among the classical sounds one of the most prominent and far reaching voices is that of Pandit Kumar Gandharva (KG) (1924-1992) a voice both rich in its classical understanding of ragas, a voice imbued with the meaning of the text it attempts to deliver, and a voice capable of creating mystery and a reverence about the depth and colossus of the literature it has set out to explore. This paper tries to trace the sojourn of Shivaputra Komkali to the iconic Kumar Gandharva: the crisis of identity and the development of the artist from the prosaic to the poetic, from the mundane to the spiritual.


Prateeksha Sharma is a classical musician and a researcher/consultant in music therapy. She works in music therapy with various populations of individuals and is actively involved in advocacy of psychotherapy based music therapy issues.

Email: prateeksha_sharma@yahoo.co.uk

At the outset it may be noted that the present attempt is not an exercise in voice analysis as much as to understand why is it that KG’s voice stands out on the firmament of Indian music in its rendition of Kabir, while numerous others sing the poet saint, equally well, if not better? Why is it that generations of people seem touched to their inner core by his singing more than that of any other musician of the tradition (of classical music) or training? What is it, that makes Kumar Gandharva a mystery and an enigma that reaches a peak during his Kabir bhajans?

The above concerns are explored on the basis of observation and logical reasoning. It relies on the observations of some people who had learnt with Kumarji himself, reading about him, working on Kabir in my own musical journey and interacting with a number of people who associated with Kabir’s thought and philosophy and KG, people who had heard KG in person, people who learnt his music with his students, critics and admirers, his own students and followers. KG is an enigma that not only haunts but also continues to grow right in front of us. “Time”, according to Van der Post (1975), “has a knack of putting the truly great…well ahead of us, rather than in the past darkening so fast behind.” KG today looms larger on the scene of the human spirit than he did in his own lifetime.

Kumarji belongs to the class of artists whose echoes linger on in the aural memories of millions all over India, a formidable legacy for anyone to carry forward and a giant task to comprehend. Much like Kabir, he grew up in a manner never experienced before him; he was a man detached from his times, the institutions of his times and the sensibilities attached to those institutional structures. If Kabir was a weaver who simply and irreverently composed verses that shook the frame of all tradition and authority; KG equally powerfully shook the tradition of music and stepped aside from the main current of being ‘certified’ by any one gharana( school of music). Given his extraordinary ability to sing any and all of them with equal facility- the choice to not affiliate him to any one gharana was a great act of rebellion, an act unheard of in his time, a radical breakaway from the prevalent order and injecting a new level of thought into the entire gamut of Hindustani music’s exploratory process.

Sunta hai guru gyani, gagan mein awaaj ho rahi jhini jhini…” (meaning, the one anointed by the guru, hears…hears an inaudible, imperceptible cosmic sound) is a very popular bhajan of Kabir sung by KG. This song alone can be an initiation for one into the world of both Kabir and Kumarji and numerous listeners venture unsuspectingly near KG and Kabir, coming with the quest for enquiry aflame in their minds about the nature of everything and perhaps the most significant being WHO AM I? Those questions of philosophy, which have haunted the human mind eternally, assume a new light when put forth by Kabir and when KG spoke in that voice, says Raghava Menon (2001), “The Kabir Bhajans on the other hand are laden with the monochrome of timelessness.”

How did KG become what he became is a question that one wishes to examine in this piece- the voice, the identity, the expression, the intensity, the depth and so on. Though Kumarji is a subject worthy of many studies that have been carried out and no doubt will be carried out in future too, I will restrict this presentation to the psychological aspects alone and the process of ‘individuation’ within the theoretical framework developed by C.G. Jung.

The Child: A Crisis in Identity

It is very well known about Kumar ji that he was a child prodigy. A prodigy is always a challenge for society to understand, for s/he confuses everyone with his/her prowess and ability. It seems uncanny and is given various connotations depending upon the arena where the prodigy has appeared. In the field of music prodigies are not only found once every few years, their method also remains similar. Society down the ages has largely been based on conformity; and individuality is frowned upon for it is perceived as a threat to the prevailing institutions. In such a situation reports Menon(2001),

Kumar was born with a supernatural memory…He could…reproduce a three-minute record of any of the well-established musicians of the day with a fidelity that made his singing of them seem like musical photographs. Considering the number of years that these musicians had spent in mastering their art, this eerie facility of a seven-year-old lad seemed miraculous…People who had no interest nor understanding of music came in hordes to hear him and look upon him…(p.40)

Literature abounds about KG telling us about his genius and the fact that how while he was just a little boy he had become the cynosure of all eyes, a crowd puller and a musician par excellence. “But what surprised Kumar …was not his ability to sing but the response he had on those who heard him. For that he was not prepared. All he thought he was doing was…he sang it (a song that he heard) the best way he could”(Menon, 2001, p. 49).

When a small boy of seven comes under public gaze what could be the possible effect on the developing ego of the child? What would he have thought about himself and about his admirers? How would he have dealt with all the adulation or to that extent not only him, how do all ‘celebrity’ children handle an invasion into their lives by effusive adults who they do not understand?

From the viewpoint of the child whose developing concept of self is subject to the kind of exposure that KG was receiving at that point in his life and he was being celebrated for his singing, his ‘voice’ was paradoxically was not his own- he was an accurate imitator, an excellent mimic and the world was adulating his ability to mimic; not necessarily his musicianship. Like a small boat that is tossed in the giant sea of careless waves Kumar’s ego had been laid bare for the world to examine, study, wonder about and comment upon. A child was in the ‘limelight’ without knowing why, or assimilating in the true sense the reason for being there. Psychologically, all children who are in the ‘public eye’ undergo this phenomenon of ‘premature exposure’ without having the ego strength to deal with the impact of it and someday face the possibility of a neurosis or hopelessness.

When the ego is sufficiently developed it can handle success and failure, criticism and appreciation with a fair degree of equanimity. But a child imitating an adult, and being adulated for that ability will sooner or later only come to feel confused about his/her own identity*.

*Another famous and celebrated artist currently on the world music scene is Michael Jackson, also considered a child prodigy. Much later as the whole world now witnesses a lot of his childhood pain surfaces in the form of abnormalities which showed up in adult life, to the confusion and surprise of the world. If we extend the analysis about the lack of ego strength in the child, whose concept of self is not well defined it appears to be true in this case too.

The Personality

Author, voice instructor, and singer Carolyn Sloan (1999), reflecting on the process of self-discovery through the voice says,

I have learned that singing is about self-examination and observation, though not self-criticism…. Along with courage and ability to question, experiment, and observe, a singer also must have an unfailing persistence and desire to solve what may seem to be unsolvable mysteries…. A singer must become become his or her own ally, searching for clues and solving these mysteries for him or herself. A singer needs to become a detective…. We must balance our need to control with a necessity to let go so our true voices can surface. We do not create the voice. The voice is and creates us. It teaches us that we must be open to being stimulated and to experiencing our lives without inhibition. As a singer, it is imperative to be a spiritual master (p.5).”

A voice is like an identity. Every human being needs a ‘voice’. In effect voice is the expression of the individuality of a person. It is not necessarily a speaking voice alone, it is an expression of the soul of the individual- it can be a ‘voice’ that expresses itself through speech, through writing, painting, gardening, cooking, cleaning, teaching, farming, or any other vocation. A ‘voice’ is not limited to the function of the larynx alone. It is a multifaceted, multi-hued, aesthetic expression of the inner life of a person. As many roles a person perform in life or society, at least that many are the visible expressions of his/her individuality or ‘voices’.

Voice is the fundamental aspect of a singer. When a singer is appreciated for excellent rendition of another’s singing, in a sensitive individual it may produce confusion about who actually is being celebrated- the original voice or the cover-version. In such a state, it becomes urgent and necessary for the child to search himself out, for it is evident that he is not being celebrated for himself but because he can be somebody else. This search for identity, when it is felt becomes the struggle.

In discussing about primal therapy, Arthur Janov (1970) talks about development from the point of view of a child, “Struggle is what keeps a child from feeling his hopelessness. It lies in being the performer...Instead of being himself he struggles to become another version of himself. Sooner or later the child comes to believe that this version is the real him…. It is that moment of icy, cosmic loneliness, the bitterest of all epiphanies. It is the time when he begins to discover that he is not loved for what he is and will not be (p. 29).” 7

KG was not known to be neurotic as a child or as an adult but one is wont to believe that precocity had its internal roots in a troubled spirit. Raghava Menon (2001) sheds light on this aspect too, “He merely puzzled over these issues inwardly…merely suffered quietly…. The problem was what to do, (p.64)…”

So, a search for his own inner expression would have begun long ago in the soul of the child. It would no longer be enough to merely ape another great artist, because the inward restlessness demanded an original release, an outlet- not merely a borrowed identity. Kumar Gandharva had set out on the path of “ ‘individuation’- a process referred to by Swiss psychologist C.G.Jung as a search for self; an expression of that biological process by which every living thing becomes what it is destined to become from the beginning" (Gandhi, 2001, p. 20).

At a later point in his life when he came in touch with Anjani Bai Malpekar, who took him into the realm of the science of sound, or Nada Yoga, did he for the first time have a real glimpse of what he had sought all along? Before that, he was seeking without knowing. The inability to ask anyone or ask the exact questions for want of a facilitating environment (both then and now) produced suffering. These experiences of pain, the beginning of the individuation is in fact transformative experiences that may be viewed as “… the dark and bitter night of the soul…” shares Raghava Menon (2001, p64). And interestingly, this is the view of transpersonal psychology too.

Experience of change, transformation or transition is in fact a point of crisis in the life of an individual. How the human encounters and deals with the process, assimilates the change and transforms himself and his destiny is the essence of transpersonal experiences. Stanislav Grof and Cristina Grof (1990), the former being among the pioneering figures in the transpersonal psychology movement say, “One can also encounter experiences of fear, loneliness, insanity, or death during transpersonal sequences originating from collective or universal domains. The transpersonal realms contain both light and dark elements, and both the ‘positive’ and the ‘negative’ can inspire fear…However, the fact that fear sometimes arises when an individual moves into the realms of light and beauty is somewhat perplexing" (p. 48)

When the artist began to question the environment around him it became imperative for him to understand who he was himself, what was the singing that he needed to do and what was the way ahead of him? Kumar needed to find his own face and distinguish it from the numerous faces that were being mirrored within him in his day-to-day quest. His struggle became introverted and was not limited to a search for voice and identity alone; it became a quest for affiliating the soul. Even when he went to study music at the house of his guru Professor Deodhar, he remained aloof about affiliating himself to any gharana; chronicles Menon (2001) “…while there was a flexibility with respect to Kumar on the characteristics of Gharana, he was inflexible in his vision of what music should be, boundless, beyond frontiers and paradigms (p. 89).”

Kumar Gandharva was a musician first and he, had already examined the structures of the gharanas while still a child, so now the need was to find his own voice, his own identity from within the musical tapestry he had seen, studied and examined all his young days. At this point perhaps, his Guru gave him a teaching assignment “Kumar was designated to teach all those students who did not have too clear a picture of what style they wanted most to follow. In a certain sense this was a wise technique to adopt for Kumar himself was not still quite decided on what contour he himself was to give his art (Menon, 2001, p. 89)

As yet, he had not found a way out for himself. He was troubled and occasionally happy. Troubled, because of the restlessness that gnawed at his heartstrings constantly and making him unsure where his precocity and genius were headed after all. The hero who is on the path of inner transformation has to face all his demons and fears when they come face-to-face with him. Few are moments of passing joy for an individual who cannot share the pain of his quest with anyone. But fortunate are those who do not give up in spite of the uncertainty.

Janov (1970) further elaborates on the need for authenticity, “Because we were unified human beings, the real self will constantly press to surface and make those mental connections. If there were no intrinsic need to be whole, then the real self could be put away for good; it would lie peacefully within us and never make any attempt to intrude into our behaviour. What drives neurosis is the need to be whole again, the need to be our natural selves. The unreal self is the barrier, the enemy which must finally be destroyed (p. 41).”

The unconscious in us is always pressing to express itself, mostly through dreams and fantasies, sometimes through experiences of illness too. When a young man seeks himself from all the haze that surrounds him, in some voices he finds a resonance of his own inner calling. The search had started finding results. While discussing about self-realization of the unconscious, Anthony Stevens (1982) notes that, “everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions to experience itself as a whole…It is not I who create myself, rather I who happen to myself (p. 140).”

A Break from Tradition

From the child who apes every audible sound in its environment to its nearest degree possible to becoming an artiste par excellence was a singular journey. Often in the musical tradition one is taught that the lyrics or the poetry of the work is subservient to the mood of the raga. That means every ‘khayal’ or ‘bandish’ of a raga should sound like the raga from which it is born and not have a distinct identity of its own. Kumarji was among one of the few people who dared to challenge this fixity. For him every lyrical form had its own life and needed to be honored for its own sake, and not alone the sake of the raga. “This quality is one of the principal characteristics of the Kumar Gandharva Gayaki,” points out Menon (2001), further elaborating, “Kumar sang out of the Bandish and not out of the Raga. He subordinated the Raga to the Bandish, never letting the Raga take priority over the Bandish. This was a unique turnaround in the culture of the Hindustani classical musical heritage. This was the cause of the passion and intensity with which Kumar invested his performance. His Raga Vistara took on the lineaments of the Bandish on account of which the Raga has come to exist. So he showed the possibilities the Raga in that particular embodiment of the Bandish he had chosen to sing. This was the consequence of a highly developed and delicate literary grasp of the nature of the words of a language and the way they are spoken while being sung ( P. 86-87).

There is one significant point in the biography of KG, which many ascribe as the reason for maturity of his musical thought. That was a six-year long, near fatal illness that he faced, in the course of which he was forbidden from singing. The only voices that he could hear were the folk singers of his neighbouring areas. This prolonged absence from active singing was a return to the inner environs for KG, and that is where he honed his art in a new way “This is a well-understood practice and is often called Mauna Sadhana, which irrigates and fertilizes the unconscious mind of the Sadhak (Menon, 2001, p. 84)”

Though Kumar had reached heights in his musicianship early enough, this period of forced withdrawl and a near brush with death, deepened his insights into the world of the ‘swara’. Possibly this was also the time when he became more inclined towards the bhakti tradition in poetry.

Illness and Transformation

A life of seeking becomes a life of pain, questions and uncertainty. Since many do not tread this path the seeker is usually left alone to look for answers till the next person can come and point out a little of the way ahead. Illness is usually a time that leaves many a person alone with not much else except their inner reservoirs to fall back on- as it did Kumarji. It was an experience of silence, an experience of using the ear to a new end, an experience of growing from the soil of, Dewas, Malwa, “Dewas was a singing country…. The folk do not sing in the strict sense. They are telling things to each other and this speech sounds like song…. A folk tune does not have Raga, what it has are the seeds of feeling…. Lying in bed he discovered this simple truth" (Menon, 2001 P. 93).

In finding out this simple truth maybe Kumar Gandharva found himself out. And now it was a new journey that stared ahead of him-the internal journey having borne fruition but the world outside much the same. This is not an unknown phenomenon for the Grofs’ having experienced an entire gamut of transpersonal experiences share, for example, someone who returns to a familiar situation may find the culture and the individuals within it unreceptive to his or her new capacities.

The reborn hero must enter the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend. Because of the magnitude of their transformative experiences… they may also face the very real problem that the everyday world around them is often not very receptive to their newfound discoveries" (C. Grof & S. Grof, 1990, p. 214).

After having completed a long journey (though visibly in a short span of time) in classical music, inverting it within himself- moving away from the realm of ragas to the kingdom of the swara, becoming fully musically quiet, except for the aural input of the folk singers that went into him, Kumarji brought about a most extraordinary change in his life through a lateral technique of riyaaz- simply through his ear and silent practice. It was as if he fought the tuberculosis by dint of sheer willpower- a triumph of the spirit. In terms of therapy this is termed as psychoneuroimmunology- where the immune system gets an impetus from the mind to fight illness and combat the disease. Music therapy and a lot of holistic practices these days are increasingly orienting themselves towards this multimodal approach.

Poetic Underpinings of Kumar Gandharva’s Gayaki

Though bhakti singing in the form of bhajan has been practiced long before KG appeared, he seems to have established a new method in the tradition- not for him a bhajan where the facial expressions of the singers “…have to show any devotion or faith in the syrupy fashion of our inheritance"…(Menon, 2001, p. 100). Kumar Gandharva brought Kabir (and the bhajan) to life simply because of his fusion of the folk and classical forms of music with poetry. Placing the poetry into the rustic countryside ambience it had grown out of, his songs acquired a new root, never before seen in bhajan singing. One sometimes wonders what made him choose Kabir’s Nirgun bhakti as his ‘voice’ over the sagun bhakti (Not that he limited his repertoire of bhajans to Nirgun bhakti alone) As in the Nirgun tradition, the deity is a formless, divine entity, Kumarji ascribed that same formlessness to the ‘swara’. Kabir’s poetry is an ocean of spiritual philosophy.

Concluding Comments

Kumar Gandharva brings to life his words with new meanings, because for the first time a singer explores the swara in the same objectivity as the poet who utters the syllables. In other words the soul of the artist becomes the voice of the man. So there is no separation between the two identities. When one man sees within him another completely reflected, automatically the former’s poetry becomes the latter’s expression. There is a merger. Thus does the Self accord itself recognition through that organ of consciousness-the ego- which it has given rise to. In one place Jung defines ego as a ‘relatively constant personificantion of the unconscious itself, or as the Schopenhauerian mirror in which the unconscious becomes aware of its own face” (Anthony, 1982,P.140)

In triumphing over illness, Kumarji rewrote the script of his life. He used his own music to heal himself out of a near death situation and gave succour to innumerable others after that. The myth of the wounded healer came alive once again for the world. Thus Kumarji, demonstrated in his own lifetime the power of healing that music offers, opened out new avenues. Possibly without realizing he became one of the most eminent case studies for music therapy in India, rendering both the lyrical content of Kabir to its full glory and his own musical improvisation to carve out a hitherto unknown, unforeseen, uncharted path for all those who dare to follow; in the process literally and figuratively becoming the ‘voice’ of Kabir for the times we live in.


Gandhy, Rashna Imhasly (2001). The psychology of love: Wisdom of Indian mythology. New Delhi: Roli Books.
Grof, Cristina & Grof, Stanislav, (1990). The stormy search for the self-A guide to personal growth through transformational crisis.  New York: Penguin.
Janov, Arthur (1970). The primal scream, primal therapy: The cure for                 neurosis. London: Abacus.
Menon, Raghava R. (2001). The musical journey of Kumar Gandharva. New Delhi: Vision Books. 
Sloan, Carolyn (1999). Finding your voice. New York: Hyperion.
Stevens, Anthony (1982). Archetyp: A natural history of the self.  London: Routledge.  
Van der Post, Laurens (1975).  Jung and the story of our time.  New York: Vintage Book

this article is also hosted by websites, whose links i provide to you here


kab dekhoon mere ram sanehi

 कब देखों मेरे राम सनेही, जा बिन दुःख पावे मेरी देहि II
हूँ तेरा पत्थ निहारूं स्वामी,कब रे मिलाहूगे अंतरजामी
जैसे जल बिण मीन तरपे, ऐसे हरी बिन मेरा जिया कलपे
निस दिन हरी बिन नींद न आवे, दरस पियरी राम क्यों सचु पावे 
कहे कबीर अब विलम्ब ना कीजे, अपनों जानी मोहे दरसन दीजे.

kab dekhon mere ram sanehi,
jaa bin dukh paave meri dehi.

hoon tera pathh nihaarun swami,
kab re milahooge antarjaami.

jaise jal binn meen tarape
aise hari binn mera jiya kalapae.

niss din hari binn neend na aawae
daras piyari ram kyoon sachoo paawae.

kahae kabir abb vilamb naa keejae
apno jaani mohae darasan dijae.

my poetic translation
alas when will I see you my Beloved
Without thee I suffer in body

I wait unblinkingly for you to come my dearest
When will you meet me dearest to my soul

Like a fish writhes without water
Without you I suffer thus

Without thee, in peace I do not sleep
Waiting to behold you in my eyes

Says Kabir, do not now stay away
Consider me thine own and reveal thyself to me.

My interpretation
A song of the deepest yearning of the soul for its divine counterpart.


jaag piyari

jaag piyari ab kya sovae, raen gai din kaahe ko khovae
jin jaaga tinn maanik paaya, bauri sab soye gavaaya;

piya tere chatur tu moorakh nari, kabahun na piya ki sej sanwaari
tein bauri bauraapan keenhon, bhar joban piya apan na cheenhon;

jaag dekh piya sej na tere, tahi chhaadi uthi gaye savere
kahae kabir soi dhan jaage, sabad baan urr antar laagae.

my translation in verse-
wake up my slumbering self awake,
the night hath pass't, why pass the day
like a precious jewel the awakened ones shall behold the day ,
the ignorant shall it all lose slumbering;

While thee a fool thine beloved is clever
for never in time* did you sit by HIS side
in thine ignorance thee behaved ignorant
you never made HIM your own intoxicated by youth;

Awake, look thine beloved ain't in your chamber any more
leaving you asleep he woke up in the morning
Says Kabir only those shall wake up
Who gets pierced by the arrows of these Words.

Kahe Kabir -Volume 1
* in time: when you had time enough in your youth

my interpretation-

Satguru mohae bhaavae

From my four CD Kabir album, called Kahe Kabir, this is one bhajan that I am now in a position to share. It was recorded when I was i...