On a Kabir yatra with singer-author Vipul Rikhi

Centuries after Kabir shared his humane philosophy, the mystic poet remains as popular as ever, with many musicians undertaking Kabir yatras. One of them is writer and singer Vipul Rikhi, who passionately shares the soul-stirring works of Kabir with people.

Last year, Vipul launched the book Drunk on Love: An Essential Introduction to the Life, Ideas and Poetry of Kabir. The book delves into Kabir’s life through folklore and poetry, and his vision, which is explored through important ideas such as ‘Jheeni’, ‘Raam’, ‘Guru’, ‘Sahaj’ and ‘Shoonya’.

Vipul has been travelling with the book and performing in different parts of India. Last month, the Goa-based singer was at the Bangalore International Centre for a performance.

Vipul’s association with The Kabir Project opened up a whole new world and oral folk traditions in different parts of the country.

Over the years, singing Kabir’s dohas to the sounds of the tanpura for curious listeners, Vipul has discovered Kabir for himself.

“Kabir constantly keeps calling us back to ourselves. We know a few songs here or a few dohas there. When I started singing, I felt the power of what he was saying. He’s constantly urging us to look within to find out what is actually going on,” says Vipul.

Vipul’s association with Kabir began after he joined Shabnam Virmani’s ‘The Kabir Project’ in 2008. That opened up a whole new world and oral folk traditions in different parts of the country. “I was with The Kabir Project for six years,” recalls the singer.

In 2018, Vipul conceptualised a concert called ‘Ishq Mastana’. The idea behind the concert was to introduce the 15th century Bhakti-Sufi poet to people through storytelling, commentary, poetry and songs. The songs were rendered in Hindi but the narration was in English to cater to a diverse crowd. “I started researching and came across many stories and legends in the oral tradition. I decided to present Kabir as he is understood in the oral folk tradition. How do people, who sing Kabir, relate to him? That’s the Kabir you find in the book,” says Vipul. The concert paved the way for Drunk on Love. “The audience asked for a book that shares his life story, writings and translations of his poetry,” he adds.

With the similar intent of showcasing the life and mission of mystic poets, Vipul created a website called ‘Ishq Fakiri’. It is populated with his performances and songs by Kabir, Meera, Baba Bulle Shah, Gorak Nath, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Sattar Das.

Each song has been presented with complete lyrics and translations in English.

“These are not just songs; they carry a deep message. And so, whenever I present concerts, I always explain the lyrics before singing and people find that really helpful. So, this website, this album is also a similar effort,” explains Vipul.

Vipul says Kabir’s layered poetry revealed itself to him over the years. He cites the example of his famous song ‘Mohe sun sun aave hasi, paani mein meen pyaasi’ which means ‘I laugh when I hear that the fish is thirsty in water’.

“What he says is that even though we are surrounded by love and joy, all human beings experience this sense of incompleteness, which is what drives us to look for this or that. After I discovered the deeper meaning, the song came alive for me. The way I sang it also changed the way I connected with it,” says the singer-author.

Some of Vipul’s favourite Kabir songs are ‘Moko kahan tu dhundhe re bande’ and ‘Chadariya jheeni re jheeni’, which describes the journey that a finely-knit cloth goes through. In this case, the cloth is an allegory for a human body that has been created with care by the almighty.

It’s interesting that Vipul’s concerts can be hosted at home as well as in an auditorium.

“That’s part of the whole point, because Kabir was a man of the people. He was a weaver who lived in Varanasi — he had a wife and children, and he lived an everyday life. Kabir talks a lot about being grounded. And that’s the spirit in which I like to share Kabir as well,” says Vipul.

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