Aryaa Naik – Cultivating Kabir

Profile Aryaa Nail Cultivating Kabir Live Encounters Magazine September 2015

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Cultivating Kabir by Aryaa Naik

To Thee Thou hast drawn my love, O Fakir!
I was sleeping in my own chamber, and Thou didst awaken me; striking me with Thy voice, O Fakir!
I was drowning in the deeps of the ocean of this world, and Thou didst save me: upholding me with Thine arm, O Fakir!
Only one word and no second–and Thou hast made me tear off all my bonds, O Fakir!
Kabir says, “Thou hast united Thy heart to my heart, O Fakir!” 

Saint Kabir

The saint poet Kabir (approx. 1440 AD – 1518 AD) expressed through his songs the ideal of seeing all of humanity as one. He awakened a lot of slumbering souls with his heartfelt poetry, simple but powerful in nature. Centuries later, his words are still a beacon of light in the darkness that engulfs human existence. A weaver by profession, Kabir ranks among the world’s greatest poets.

Kabir wrote in the language of the masses, thus giving people from all walks of life an opportunity to understand the Divine. It is by the simplest metaphors, by constant appeals to needs, passions, relations which all men understand that he drove home his intense conviction – the reality of the soul’s oneness with the Divine. He advocated the possibility of a “simple union” with Divine Reality, a notion that was reserved only to the learned high class and priests. He claimed, it was possible through devotion and the awareness that God resides neither in a temple nor in a mosque, but within.

Jaise Til Mein Tel Hai, Jyon Chakmak Mein Aag
Tera Sayeen Tujh Mein Hai, Tu Jaag Sake To Jaag

Just like Oil is Inside the Seed, and the Fire Inside the Flint Stone
Your God is Inside You, If you have the Power, Wake Up

The lucidity and profundity of Kabir’s words have survived through the ages, his words hold true as much as they did 600 years ago. The simplicity and power of his poetry has influenced many people through ages, one of them being the great Indian Nobel laureate, poet Rabindranath Tagore, who deeply influenced by the mystic poet, translated many of his songs into English.

Today, in a day and age where beliefs are contested, personal relations have degenerated, the ‘I’ has become bigger than the universe and we live isolated lives confined in materiality, unaware of the self, Kabir’s words seem to be the oasis in the desert of spiritual obliviousness.

There are several attempts being made to popularize his teachings and reach out to people through popular culture. One such effort is, The Kabir Project. An initiative undertaken by filmmaker Shabnam Virmani, the project brings together the experiences of a series of ongoing journeys in quest of this 15th century north Indian mystic poet as well as other Bhakti and Sufi poets in our contemporary worlds. Started in 2003, these journeys inquire into the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Kabir’s poetry through songs, images and conversations.

The Kabir Project explores a stunning diversity of social, religious and musical traditions which Kabir inhabits, exploring how his poetry intersects with ideas of cultural identity, secularism, nationalism, religion, death, impermanence, folk and oral knowledge systems. The core inspiration of the project is music, and Kabir comes alive in 4 documentary films, 10 audio CDs and poetry books through the power of song.

Another initiative of The Kabir Project is The Kabir Festival which has been held in several cities of India and abroad and finds a yearly regular audience in Mumbai. The festival introduces the audiences to the message of Kabir. Screening of Documentary films followed by a facilitated discussion, live folk music as well as story telling sessions for the younger children all seek to foster an awareness and understanding of Kabir’s message.

Reena Ginwala, in an attempt to engage people with Kabir’s teachings in a more individualized manner has devised the Kabir Samagri, a tool kit which enables personal explorations and reflections to empower one to weave a fine fabric of the warp and weft of one’s own living experience. The Samagri is a box containing 44 insight cards illustrated in Warli folk art, 2 audio CDs of Kabir’s songs and couplets in Malwi folk music, a booklet of translations and inquiry into our personal journey with Kabir, and another booklet of bhajans (devotional songs) with translations.

Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe is taking Kabir’s teachings to the youth though music that will appeal to their sensibility. Infused with rock, pop, reggae and fusion, Kabir Cafe brings alive works of the mystic poet creating a 600-year-old musical dialogue between him and their audience. The band features lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Neeraj Arya, who pioneered the Kabir Rock genre, along with Raman Iyer on the mandolin, Mukund Ramaswamy on violins and Viren Solanki on percussions and drums. Each song they perform is followed by an explanation of the poem by the band in a language easy to understand illustrated with contemporary examples. They’ve recently collaborated with popular Bollywood music director and singer Vishal Dadlani, taking Kabir’s message beyond their live performance arena (Video link below).

These are attempts made by a few people to take us on Kabir’s spiritual path. Now it is up to us to introspect and reflect.

Kaal Kare So Aaj Kar, Aaj Kare So Ub
Pal Mein Pralaya Hoyegi, Bahuri Karoge Kub

Take up the challenges of tomorrow today, do what has to be done today now.
It will only take a moment for life to end, how will you achieve all that you were meant to do

© Aryaa Naik

Aryaa Naik – Art and literature, music and poetry, cinema and theatre and all things in between – these are a few of her favourite things. With a media and film background, a rich lineage of literature and art, degrees in philosophy and gender studies; at Gyaan Adab Centre which encourages and fosters creative freedom and works towards empowering women through literature, Aryaa’s contribution as Head, Creatives is multi-faceted and befitting the role.

Her educational qualifications include Bachelors in Philosophy from Ferguson College, Pune, Post Graduate Diploma in Social Communications Media from Sophia College, Mumbai and Masters in Gender, Culture and Development Studies from the University of Pune. She has worked with Publications like Times of India, Femina and Maharashtra Herald as a features writer where she covered literature, theatre, music, art, films and fashion. She worked as a sub-editor and feature writer for the Pune based daily Life 365 where she spearheaded the women’s page.  She combined her love for films and writing to work with a script writing firm based in Pune to develop scripts for Bollywood and Hollywood markets and formulated screenplay writing tools and techniques. She has written various articles for children for the children’s website Mocomi. She has worked as a research assistant and lecturer with the Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune and has delivered lectures at Fergusson College on ‘Women, Work and Economy’.

She is currently working on a screenplay and a collection of short stories.

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