Kabir in Lahore

A four-day long festival in Lahore celebrating Kabir Das, the revered 15th century poet and mystic who defied the boundaries between Hindu and Muslim, ends on Thursday.


The Kabir Festival (Sep 29-Oct 2, 2014) has been organised by the Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in collaboration with the Kabir Project in India, a unique and acclaimed initiative by documentary filmmaker and musician Shabnam Virmani.


The aim is to promote the philosophy of spirituality and harmony through film screenings, live musical evenings, photo and video exhibitions, storytelling, and interactive sessions. The performers include classical and folk singers, scholars, artists, and students of Pakistan and India, who share a passion for the mystical world.


The festival features the well-known documentary series on Kabir that has been years in the making, one each evening, followed by question and answer sessions with the director Shabnam Virmani.


The first film “Had-Anhad: Journeys with Ram and Kabir”, shown on Monday, journeys through song and poem into the politics of religion on both sides of the border in India and Pakistan.


“Koi Sunta Hai: Journeys with Kumar and Kabir”, screened on Tuesday, interweaves the folk music traditions of Kabir with the life and music of the late classical singer Kumar Gandharva.


Wednesday’s film “Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein: Journeys with Sacred and Secular Kabir” focuses on the life of Prahlad Tipanya, a Dalit singer. The story that unfolds shows how the Kabir Panth sect deifies the mystic weaver who spoke his poems in the market place, while the social activist group Eklavya appropriates his secular aspects.


The last film “Chalo Hamara Des: Journeys with Kabir and Friends” interweaves the stories of Indian folk singer Prahlad Tipanya and North American scholar Linda Hess. The film journeys through song and poem into these two lives, brought together in an unlikely friendship by the cross-cultural resonance of Kabir.


The festival also features sessions like the one by activist and teacher from Mumbai Chintan Girish Modi on Tuesday titled “The Brave Parrot and the Partition: A Kabir song and Stories of Confliction Resolution”.


The session draws inspiration from a song in the oral traditions of Kabir, about a parrot who rushes to rescue her beloved tree in a forest engulfed by fire. Through this parable, Chintan invites participants to reflect on the connections between this story and the Partition of 1947. Other sessions include Manto’s “Dekh Kabira Roya”, a reading by Raza Naeem, as well as Bhakti and Baul poetry and songs by Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi.


The session “Seeking the Beloved” on Wednesday focuses on the stories of five famous folk legends of Sindh through the poems of the Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, with Vipul and Shabnam drawing on their forthcoming book “I Saw Myself” based on the poetry of Shah Latif and Kabir in Kutch. The session involves story telling, video clips, conversation and song, illustrating some of the texts through live music.


Thursday, Oct 2, features a session on “Woman’s voice in Mystic Poetry”, raising questions about whether these poems reflect the limitations of traditional gender roles, and reinforce them, whether they defy binary gender identities, or both.


The festival ends with a Sufi and Bhakti evening presented by Shabnam Virmani and Vipul Rikhi.


This is the first time that the Kabir Project is being shared in Pakistan so extensively. The festival is open to students, faculty, and community members interested in the world of mysticism, film making, and literature.


For details about the Kabir Project, see http://www.kabirproject.org. To attend the festival,

This article was originally published in The News


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