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It was a beautiful stage set for a promising evening in the courtyard of Jayamahal Palace Hotel. I had been excited about it ever since I got to know about it through the weekly mail from Bookmyshow. I purchased my tickets 15 days in advance. Such is the reputation of Ruhaniyat.
Ruhaniyat is a festival of Sufi & Mystic Music that travels around India. They visit the 7 major cities in India between November and March. This is their 11th year and I was lucky to be able to make it for the Bangalore performance.
Last night was a beautiful night to experience the divine, not just because I was at Ruhaniyat to listen to the Mystical music but also because of a Celestial event. It was a Lunar eclipse, perfectly timed between 7 pm and 10 pm. We sat there under the trees with the sky above us just turning the night blue. As the host opened the festival she rightly mentioned that it was going to be an evening of Ibadat or worship. In Hinduism we do namasmaran or jap during an eclipse. That oriented us for the evening.
The first performance was by Abdul Rashid Hafiz & group from Kashmir. The evening air was filled with lilting music of the Rubab, Kashmiri Sarangi with the sweet rolling of the words from the Mystic songs in Kashmiri. I wrapped myself up with a shawl, I simply had to stay for the entire night out in this open courtyard I knew it right at the start.
Avdhoot Gandhi from Alandi, Maharashtra and his group performed an Abhanga, Bharud and a Gondhal. Compositions of Savata Mali, Bahina Bai and Eknath Maharaj embellished Avdhoot's powerful singing. This was a performance in my mother tongue so could not stop myself from singing along. The Gondhali got the audience swaying in their seat with his prowess on the Sambal (folk drums) and when they sang praises of Goddess Ambabai, I too joint in the Udho! The Shankhnaad (blowing of the conch shell) elevated the pitch. The host mentioned that Avdhoot Gandhi is a descendant from Shree Dyaneshwar Mauli's Maternal family and the Varkari people's first stop is at his family home. He is blessed and talented too.
On the heels came in the singers Indra and Shakur Khan with their team to present the Sufi Kalams of Bulle Shah and others. Unfailingly the Khadtal player, Daevo Khan was the most popular with his enticing movements. He even did a jugalbandi with the tabla player.
After all the celebratory moods from Maharashtra and Rajasthan, it was the turn of the soul of this whole event Parvathy Baul. She enthralls the audience like none, performing alone on the stage dressed in saffron saree wrapped in Bengali style, her knee length hair worn as Jata. When she sings, pure, sincere and full of Bhaav / emotions is a voice that invokes a connect with the divine. She is this tiny women with a voice that emerges from her belly and a face as innocent as a child. You see that Tandri on her face and your focus turns inwards. She sways with Krishna as she strums her Ek tara and plays the Duggi. She jumps in sheer joy as she says the lord belongs to her and is only hers. Inspite of travelling all over the world performing at big and small festivals, she performs as if this is her only performance. In the entire evening she was the one who gave goosebumps and I experienced the meaning of Ruhaniyat!
We saw the stage being dusted with some powder and we knew what to expect next, ofcourse the Whirling Dervishes. They performed the Sema, a prayer service. We were told not to clap after the performance respecting the Turkish culture and traditions laid down for Sema. The Dervishes walked in slowly and stood in one corner of the stage wearing a black cloak. The ceremony is all about symbolism, they remove the cloak and set out on a journey of spirituality through Sema. The Camel hair hat they wear stands for the ego, the white skirt for the ego's shroud. The whirling is the singular movement in the whole ceremony. It represents revolution, of the circulation of blood, of the revolving universe etc. They start off by bowing towards Mecca and cross hands across the chest, signifying there is only one God and that we have to be one with God. Then as they start whirling they slowly open their hands in delicate moves, bringing them down to the hips and then lifting them slowly upwards the right hand pointing upwards to receive the blessings from God and the left pointing down to the Earth to distribute those blessings to the needy. These dervishes therefore are symbolic medium for the common man to receive the gift from God. The mood of the ceremony was further enhanced by the smell of rose water and incense in the air. When one experiences Sema one realizes the irrelevance of religion to spirituality and I am sure people not exposed to Hinduism will say the same when they see some of our rituals.
During the intermission I looked up at the night sky, it was still shrouded with clouds and I suddenly caught a glimpse of the shadow of the earth just moving out from the moon. The eclipse was coming to an end.
After an intermission the night's last performers, the duo Shameem and Nayeem Ajmeri entertained the audience with some spirited Sufi Qawwali. The cake on the icing was Ghungroo ofcourse for which Shameem Ajmeri has earned much applause. He mesmerized the audience with his bols of the Ghungroo which he does vocally, the jugalbandi of ghungroo and payal, the sounds of a single ghungroo and the scattering of the ghungroo. There was a demand for once more as this was the last performance for the night and they concluded it with a composition called Rang.
Ruhaniyat is a musical, spiritual, long lasting experience. I would be looking forward to it every year now on...