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Kabir in the time of Kargil

Madhup Mudgal, disciple of Kumar Gandharva, creates new tunes for Kabir's mystic songs

Kabir (Vol I and II)
Madhup Mudgal
Music Today
Rs 65 each

If Kabir were born now instead of in the 14th century, his poetry might not have been very different.

His was a turbulent time. Princes fought each other, castes clashed. Religious friction was in the air. From this confusion emerged a bhakti movement that sought to unify people. Kabir believed he was "at once a child of Allah and Ram".

Kabir was unlettered. He lived the life of a weaver, and cloth and weaving images recur in his poems. He wrote in Bhojpuri, a layman's language, though he lived in Varanasi, a Sanskrit stronghold. Kabir was a nirguni: he believed divinity was formless. He spoke out against idol worship.

Kabir's classic image of lions and cows grazing in peace side by side in Ek achambha and of metaphysical solitude in Baba jogi have lingered over the centuries.

Kumar Gandharva in his inimitable style brought Kabir's poems into the classical concert repertoire and put his own sophisticated interpretation to them. Madhup Mudgal, his disciple, presents Kabir again in this double-cassette album.

Mudgal's compositions are a combination of classical and folk elements. Aisa dhyan is very rustic in accent and leans towards the popular, fast-paced form of bhakti songs. Ram gun is more classically oriented. Ek Achambha reminds you of Gujarati and Rajasthani folk songs.

Mudgal's classical training is unmistakeable. His phrases almost shadow those of Kumar Gandharva. Arawind Thatte follows on the harmonium with restraint. The ektara and the three tanpuras add a great deal of resonance.

The treat is that this is not a filmi version with synth violins and a simulated santoor. But where Kumar Gandharva exuded life and colour, Mudgal sounds tame. The tempo varies, but Mudgal's compositions don't vary in temper. No highs and lows texture the singing. A relatively passionate passage comes in Sadho sadho, where Mudgal ad libs on Kehe Kabir.

Re man in Bhairavi ends the first volume. Baba jogi, which closes the second volume, is about being alone, and reflects Kabir's predicament. In trying to unite diverse elements, he found himself alone at the end of the road, outcast from Varanasi, considered a heretic by all.

Ghulammohammed Sheikh's stylish 1997 gouache of Kabir adorns the inlay cards.

K Amarnath

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