Reviving a cultural heritage

mir600x400Aathira
NSoJ Bureau

The walls of Freedom Park, Bengaluru imprison echoes of India’s struggle for independence. The location, which once witnessed the detention of the country’s freedom fighters, is now utilised for organising public meetings and cultural events. Last Monday, voices of divine love and devotion rang through the air at Freedom Park, which may once have been heavy with the cries of those who opposed the British regime.

The Bengaluru Chapter of the Baba Farid Mir Project, put together by the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), saw a large number of music lovers in attendance. The Infosys-funded project seeks to aid the survival of the Sufiyana Kalam genre of music, propounded by the Mirs, a community hailing from Rajasthan.

While IFA has been involved with supporting music communities in Rajasthan for over seven years now, it was during a 10-month period in 2015-16 that the Mirs became the focus area for IFA. “They approached IFA. We have been working with them for ten years now. It is something that is organic, coming from within the community,” said Menaka, who is in charge of raising funds for such initiatives undertaken by the organization.

The community sings the compositions of Sufi saints such as Baba Sheikh Farid, Saint Bulleh Shah and even render their interpretation of verses by Meera, Kabir and Amir Khusru. The musicians sing in the Siraiki dialect, which has its roots in west Punjab. Their songs follow a narrative pattern. One of the performers, Nasru Khan, took the lead in involving the audience with the performance by translating the verses into Hindi. Serenity and devotion was palpable in the facial expressions of the singers as they told the stories of the Sufi saints’ spiritual encounters through music.

A rapt audience convinced them to continue with the concert well past the scheduled time and were bowled over when the musicians sang the popular Pakistani compositionDuma Dum Mast Qalandar. The cross-sections of attendees, cutting across age groups and backgrounds, are a testimony to the popularity of the Sufi genre of music.

The community, however, cannot make ends meet with their musical tradition. “Music is in our blood. We even have a belief within the community which states that a baby from a Mir household wails in tune with a raaga. But due to the lack of support and earnings in the field of music, many Mirs have abandoned the tradition,” said Nasru Khan. They engage in occupations such as farming to supplement their meagre income from singing at concerts in various regions. The tradition which was virtually dead for ten years, is seeing signs of revival after IFA came into the picture.

While only the men participate in performances, the IFA has involved the Mir women in their project. They have released a calendar which enlists cultural events taking place within the community. The itinerary has been creatively put together on a quilt designed by the women.

The Mirs hope to sustain the current upturn in their fortunes by carrying their musical heritage to more regions. The IFA relies on public support to fund over 40 projects per year.  “While some of the money comes from our corpus, year on year, we need to raise funds. So we are looking for donors and collaborators to support us so that we can offer grants to diverse projects,” Menaka said. The IFA hopes to reach out to areas far beyond their current coverage with more financial backing.

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