In con­ver­sa­tion with folk singer Prahlad tipa­nya

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Prahlad Tipa­nya is not a typ­i­cal mu­si­cal ge­nius. Be­fore the age of 24, he had no inkling of a ca­reer in singing. Nor was mu­sic in his genes: his par­ents were poor and un­let­tered. He was happy work­ing as a school­teacher in a vil­lage in Mad­hya Pradesh. But lis­ten­ing to folk songs and bha­jans in all-night per­for­mances at vil­lage chau­pals touched a chord in him. For years, he has been singing Kabir bha­jans in the Malwi folk style and per­form­ing with his troupe in­clud­ing ac­com­pa­ny­ing singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists across In­dia and abroad. Along with other recog­ni­tion, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2011.

Your as­so­ci­a­tion with mu­sic:

When i was young, i saw peo­ple singing with the medium of lok vadya (tra­di­tional folk mu­si­cal in­stru­ments). These were typ­i­cally har­mo­nium, dho­lak, sitar etc. i came across the tam­bura, with five strings, and it seemed in­ter­est­ing. That’s when i thought that i should learn how to play it. i be­came mes­merised by it and even­tu­ally i started singing Kabir. usu­ally, lok geet (folk songs) and bha­jans are sung at wed­dings and on oc­ca­sions like birth of a child.

Your un­der­stand­ing of Kabir’s spir­i­tu­al­ity:

i started singing Kabir be­cause i re­alised that his po­etry has an ef­fect in our lives. His songs are not just for en­ter­tain­ment, but also rooted in re­al­ity – re­lated to our lives. The words in his bha­jans made sense when they were writ­ten and are prac­ti­cal even to­day. Kabir spoke about all of mankind; he spoke of what­ever he saw – dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of caste, creed and re­li­gion. Through his po­etry, he spoke about re­mov­ing su­per­sti­tion, blind faith and evil thoughts.

Peo­ple may mind his views on Hin­dus and mus­lims but in re­al­ity, he didn’t know any­thing about Hin­dus and mus­lims. His thoughts were not re­stricted to them. He be­lieved in a supreme power be­cause of which we ex­ist and this power is in all, ir­re­spec­tive of the dif­fer­ences of Hindu-mus­lim, girl­boy, desh-videsh (lo­cal-for­eign).

life is a jour­ney com­mon for all. This is an im­por­tant les­son to in­cul­cate in chil­dren so that they don’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween peo­ple on the ba­sis of whether they are rich or poor, black or white and so on. They should be taught the im­por­tance of liv­ing in har­mony. We can­not re­strict and bind man on any ba­sis and cre­ate bar­ri­ers. And if we do that, then there is no ish­war, Al­lah or Wahe guru.

Kabir spoke of the whole

kay­naat (uni­verse). He said that there should be mercy for all liv­ing forms be­cause ev­ery­thing that ex­ists is de­pen­dent on the other. We should pro­tect each other.

You never had for­mal train­ing in mu­sic.

i still don’t know the raag and swara of mu­sic. sangeet (mu­sic), ac­cord­ing to me, means an­dar ki aawaaz (the in­ner voice). i just sing from within. sangeet is made of three let­ters. If we re­move the first let­ter we get ‘geet’; if we re­move the last let­ter we get ‘sangi’; and if we re­move the mid­dle lat­ter, we get ‘sant’. Hence, sangeet means geet, sangi and sant. it con­tains singing, the feel­ing that ev­ery­one is to­gether, each other’s com­pan­ion and ev­ery­one is a saint.

We can­not bind mu­sic in a cer­tain way. When singing must have started, peo­ple didn’t know which raag, swar and taal there were. it all came af­ter­wards. To know our in­ner voice we don’t need any for­mal train­ing.

On folk singing in In­dia:

We need to sing in such a man­ner that it touches peo­ple. This will hap­pen only if the singer and the au­di­ence are at the same level. Few knowl­edge­able clas­si­cal singers want to sing only in cer­tain places, and there is a chance that peo­ple don’t get un­der­stand and feel their mu­sic. The in­ner love, faith and yearn­ing of the singer can only be un­der­stood by the au­di­ence if they stand on the same ground/level.

On per­form­ing abroad:

i don’t know how to speak in english and i sang the same lok Bha­jans abroad. Peo­ple had tears in their eyes and they were danc­ing to my mu­sic. it touched their soul and i was happy to see that.

As told to Yoshika San­gal

Cour­tesy: wiki­me­dia com­mons/suyash.dwivedi

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