The Mahindra Kabira Festival is all about celebrating Kabir on ghats of Varanasi

Absolute spiritual feast for senses, event was attended by more than 310 delegates from different parts of country and abroad

Neha Kirpal Published 11.01.24, 11:14 AM
Snapshots of performance at the festival

Snapshots of performance at the festival

Kabir may have lived more than five centuries ago, but his legacy continues to live on even today. For many, the 15th-century mystic-poet is a living tradition and a way of life. It was precisely this timeless philosophy of Kabir that was recently celebrated at the seventh edition of the Mahindra Kabira Festival, which was held in Varanasi recently. “Sant Kabir’s profound contributions form an integral part of (India’s) heritage, and his teachings resonate powerfully in our contemporary world,” said Jay Shah, vice president, head, cultural outreach, Mahindra & Mahindra.

An absolute spiritual feast for the senses, the event was attended by more than 310 delegates from different parts of the country and abroad as well as the locals who got a chance to immerse themselves in the spiritual world of Kabir. Apart from being a mystical journey through Kabir and his life, the festival truly brought alive the sheer magic of the ancient city of Benaras.


Meandering through narrow, congested streets, where cars, scooters and cows alike jostle for a foothold, one suddenly reached the still waters of the divine river amidst thousands of glittering lights illuminating the ghats. The early morning boat ride was filled with visions of people braving the cold and taking holy dips in the river while hundreds of white seagulls flew overhead. Hearing soul-stirring renditions while sipping masala kulhad chai against the backdrop of the rising sun’s bright orange tint on the banks of the mighty Ganges was a surreal experience.

The festival got off to a resounding start with a traditional Banarasi Ganga aarti at Guleria Kothi, the designated venue for the festival. The afternoon sessions included a visit to the recently revamped Kashi Vishwanath temple as well as the specially curated, guided Panchaganga heritage walk in the interiors of one of the world’s oldest living cities. Audiences were also witness to impressive performances by local schoolchildren every evening.

Over the course of two and a half days, legendary artist Paresh Maity also painted live ‘The Eternal Journey’, the single largest canvas on Varanasi, measuring 20 feet. As a student of the Government College of Art and Craft in Calcutta in 1984, Maity had visited Varanasi for the first time. Fascinated and enchanted by it, he has been returning to the city and painting it over the last 40 years. “In any form of art, one needs many lives to truly capture something. Varanasi is beyond history and anyone’s imagination. Every time I come here, it’s new and amazing,” he said.

Singapore-based Hindustani vocalist Sveta Hattangdi Kilpady regaled the audience with her soulful performance. “To me, Kabir’s dohas and couplets are all about music for the soul, which is what I tried to put together in my compositions,” she explained. The following evening, she accompanied her guru Hindustani classical musician Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, a jugalbandi that left the audience spellbound. “I don’t look at Kabir as a person, rather as a principle. It’s not just about a person who lived around 500 years ago. He continues to live because his principles are immortal,” said Deshpande.

Next, Varanasi-based Hindustani classical vocalist Purnesh Bhagwat sang a Kabir Bhajan, and Hindustani classical vocalist Bhuvanesh Komkali paid a heartfelt tribute to his grandfather Kumar Gandharva. Further, Sandeep Singh mesmerised the gathering with a recital of Taus or Mayuri Veena, a special stringed 17th-century instrument, the legacy of which he is reviving. “In Persian, Taus means peacock. The instrument holds great historical significance, as the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjun Singh, played it at the Golden Temple in Amritsar,” informed Singh.

Rajasthani folk music by Ustad Anwar Khan Manganiyar at the Shivala Ghat was another power-packed show at the festival. “This city is full of music. The purity of performing at the Ganga ghat was an unparalleled experience,” expressed Khan, who was performing in Varanasi for the first time. Listeners were also treated to an evocative flute and percussion duet by Kartikeya and Makrand. The duo started their performance with Raag Ahir Bhairav, their tribute to Lord Shiva. Among other things, they also performed their original composition Yuj, creating improvised sounds using their mouth and a glass of water. Their surprise collaboration with Ustad Anwar Khan got a standing ovation from the crowd along with repeated chants of ‘once more’.

The last evening of the festival saw Vasu Dixit Collective playing an eclectic ElektroKabira set — their first-ever performance outside Karnataka — which got the audiences tapping their feet and even singing the lyrics of one of their Kannada songs, Ragi tandira. The finale act of the festival was by iconic folk-rock band Indian Ocean, who got the audiences grooving to a few new compositions as well as some of their most loved, evergreen tunes.

Some of the afternoon talks were by renowned names such as Kabir scholar Purushottam Agrawal as well as scholar, writer and translator Linda Hess. Another engrossing talk was by educator, spiritual mentor and researcher of theology, Umesh Kabir, who has spent the last two decades living the Kabir philosophy at the city’s Chaura Math ashram where Kabir is believed to have spent 120 years of his life. “If you want to experience Kabir, it is very important to spend time with yourself,” he explained.

Needless to say, it is impossible to go to Benaras without sampling its delectable local food, and attendees certainly got to indulge in some authentic Benarasi cuisine that was spread over various meals during the festival. This was also the sixth year in a row that the festival was green and sustainable, with zero carbon waste. “The Mahindra Kabira Festival, which had enchanting morning music on the Ganges and high-octane performances every evening celebrating Kabir on the ghats, will resonate with us until the next year,” concluded Sanjay K. Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts.

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