Thursday, June 14, 2012

A celestial singer on earth

Parvathy Baul, one of the premier Baul singers in the country, enthralls an audience with her soul-stirring singing

Photo by Smriti Chanchani/Kabir Project 

By Shevlin Sebastian

“A song can melt a stone, so why not the human heart?” says singer Parvathy Baul, at her concert at the Fine Arts Hall in Kochi. “The path of love has been shown by [social reformer] Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Oh Lord, take me across the endless ocean of life.”

The diminutive Parvathy is a splendid visual sight. Her hair, in long coiled braids, reaches all the way to the floor. She is wearing a saffron coloured saree with an orange border, apart from a red blouse with long sleeves.

Parvathy holds the ektara (a one-stringed instrument) in her right hand, and taps on the duggi (a small drum) tied across her waist, with her left. On her feet are ghungroos, with a red string in front attaching it to one of her toes. Parvathy’s face is remarkably unlined and glows when she smiles, which is often.

“I learnt about the inner meaning of the Baul singing tradition only when I came to Kerala,” she says. And what may not be well known is that Parvathy is married to a Malayali, Ravi Gopalan Nair, a photographer. They met when Parvathy came to attend a course in Irinjalakuda in 1997 and subsequently, got married. They now live in Ravi’s home town of Nedumangad.

Parvathy sings a song called ‘Anondo Bazaar cholre mon’ (the Market of Ananda). She has a high-pitched voice. Frequently, she takes a few steps forward, goes back, then does several pirouettes, while all the time, she is singing and playing the ektara and the duggi. It needs a remarkable coordination to do it perfectly.

She closes her eyes and shouts, “Anondo.” And the plaintive appeal pierces the audience’s heart like an arrow.

Between songs she says, “I am delighted that so many of you have come. I experienced a lot of love in the way that it has been organized.” The concert was set up by the Centre for Theater in association with Tharangam Samskarikavedi, Biennale Supporters Forum 2012, and Edcb.

In a nice innovation, the programme was held on the floor, instead of the stage, with the chairs placed in a semi-circle. As a result, there was a sense of intimacy and the audience could get more involved in the proceedings.

Parvathy says, “My next song is about the need to be patient when one wants to get married. Your real marriage will happen only when you are taken to the burning ghat. You will be kissed by fire and massaged by the bamboo.”

And soon, she starts singing. People cannot understand the words, because she is singing in Bengali, but slowly, but surely, she casts a spell on the audience. Most of the time, there is a soft sound from the ektara. Usually, it is her voice that carries the performance through. And in a technology-heavy era, her recital is being captured endlessly on mobile phones, handycams, video recorders, and cameras.

“I would like to sing about longing,” says Parvathy. “It is only through longing that you can merge with God. When longing becomes divine, it is powerful and intense.”

Parvathy also sings a song by mystic poet, Kabir, as the Bauls believe in all religions. As the most famous Baul poet Lalan Fakir (1774–1890) said:

Everyone asks: "Lalan, what is your religion?"
I ask: "How does religion look?
I have never laid eyes on it.
Some wear malas [Hindu rosaries] around their necks,
some tasbis [Muslim rosaries], and so people say
they have different religions.
But do you bear the sign of your religion
when you come or when you go?"

At the conclusion, Parvathy sings 'Bolo Radha Gobinda Bolo', in praise of Lord Krishna's wife, Radha, and invites the audience to sing along. And, most remarkably, the people pick up the tune and sing along, creating a brilliant and unforgettable climax to a wonderful evening of song and dance.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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