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The Kabir Project at Srishti

Inspired by the spirit of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul traditions of mystic poetry, the Kabir Project team has been engaged for the last 15 years in many journeys exploring the power and relevance of this poetry and music for our times. We have curated, translated and re-expressed this poetry and music through documentary films, music CDs, books, folk music concerts, urban festivals, rural yatras, school workshops and now a large web archive called ‘Ajab Shahar’ which is open to all. The Kabir Project was seeded at Srishti in the year 2002.

Fiercely iconoclastic in their social critique, Kabir and other Bhakti, Sufi and Baul poets urge us towards deep inner and outer transformations through the power of love and compassion. Their poems invite a fierce self-interrogation – asking us to reflect on how we construct and perpetuate narrow divides through identity – while also reflecting on life, impermanence and the human quest for meaning. This wisdom resonates through songs across the entire sub-continent in diverse poetic voices – creating a powerful warp and weft of mystic thought which dissolves boundaries of space and time. This wisdom – and its deeply plural origins and manifestations – is our core inspiration, and all our work seeks to share it in new ways and contribute to its discourse.

Activities & Highlights of 2017:

Developing Content for Ajab Shahar
Nine years in the making, this web archive (to be launched in 2018), offers a curated collection of hundreds of songs from the oral traditions of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul poetry, along with interviews, couplets, writings, films and stories all carefully researched, translated and annotated. In this way the vast documentation by the Kabir Project team over the last 15 years will be shared in the public domain through this web platform, and continue to be enriched in the coming years. While the structure of the site was ready, the site was populated with songs, translations, conversations, films and writing over the last year. Our youtube channel grew to 200 videos and subscriptions crossed 33,000 users.; YouTube Channel:

Rooh Ji Rehaan @ Living Lightly Exhibition Dec 2016 & Nov 2017
Multi-media exhibit on music-poetry of pastoralists of Kutch
Conceived & curated by Shabnam Virmani & Vipul Rikhi
Book Design: Smriti Chanchani, Art: Roy Varghese (Srishti alumni)
With field support from Soorvani in Kutch, Gujarat, we delved into the oral traditions of the herder communities of this region, curating and bringing forth their philosophic world view through their poetic and musical expressions. The 3-D immersive installation included hanging cloth panels with artworks created by Roy Varghese, a book of poetry and curation of songs available to visitors for listening on MP3 players with headphones. This included original recordings with Sufi and folk artists of Kutch. These songs were also presented in live concerts with curation and narration by Shabnam and Vipul.

Rooh Ji Rehaan was part of a wider exhibition on pastoralism called ‘Living Lightly’ curated by Sushma Iyengar and produced by Sahjeevan/Centre for Pastoralism launched in IGNCA, New Delhi in December 2016 and then mounted again in Ahmedabad in November 2017.

Kabirgaan & Sufi Samvaad Yatra – Gujarat
Travelling festival of bhakti music & Sufi discourse, Jan 2017
Organized by the NGO Vishwagram and writer Dhruv Bhatt, the 2nd edition of this Yatra travelled to 8 villages & towns of Saurashtra (Bhavnagar, Vallabhipur, Gondal, Junagadh, Veraval, Rajkot, Madhavpura & Kameejada). Arif Mohammad Khan shared his thoughts on the spirit of Sufism and plurality in the Indian tradition, while Shabnam and Vipul shared ideas, poetry and songs of the mystics. There was no hammering of a "message" of communal harmony, just the sharing of a felt truth (Ishq hai khud paigaam apna, aur ishq ka kuchh paigaam nahin / Love is its own message, and love has no message at all). It's always good to go into small towns and villages and share in simple ways, and also learn and exchange. Always a joy to listen to the bhajan mandalis of the area and interact with school and college children and share with them.

The Gujarat Yatra 2017

The Life Of Poems Feb 2017
Srishti Student Workshop
by Shabnam Virmani & Jeena Chacko
This two-week workshop inquired into the life of poetry, giving students an exposure to diverse poetic voices in English along with mystic poets in local languages. Students also dabbled in writing their own poems.

Devotion as Dissent: Reverence and Social Critique in Nirgun Bhakti Poetry
Talk at LSR College, New Delhi, Feb 2017
by Vipul Rikhi
The talk explored the practice of nirgun Bhakti poetry and music as dissent, suggesting that its social critique on caste and religious oppression is based firmly in a sense of the sacred. Do we need to question only mainstream fundamentalisms, or also the kind of secular framework which seeks to have no truck with the sacred?

Shabad Dhun Laagi Apr 2017
Curated concert of mystic songs by Omprakash Nayak, Saidu Ibrahim & Mavji Jagariya with narration & translations by Vipul Rikhi & Shabnam Virmani
Kabir Project collaborates with the Bhoomija Trust every year to curate and present two new folk artists to Bangalore audiences. This year’s second edition presented Omprakash Nayak who brought alive the Vaani traditions of Bikaner and Saidu Ibrahim & Mavji Jagariya who sang Shah Latif’s poetry from the oral traditions of Kutch, Gujarat.

Sadbhavana Award to the Kabir Project June 2017
The Kabir Project was recipient of the Sadbhavana Award for sensitive work contributing to inter-faith understanding and harmony in the country. The award was given at the 3-day Sadbhavana Parva in Mahua, Gujarat by the Sadbhavana Forum, a gathering of socially committed teachers, activists, literatteurs and artists from Gujarat, brought together under the leadership of the NGO Vishwagram, with the blessings of the influential and progressive religious leader Morari Bapu.

Unlearning with Kabir Workshops
‘Schools That Care’ conference organised by The Teacher Foundation, Bangalore, July 2017 & EduCarnival 2017, IIT Delhi, Dec 2017
by Vipul Rikhi
Mystic poets challenge conventional notions of learning. They emphasise feeling, and experience in the body, rather than abstract intellect, as the path to true knowledge. What can we learn from the mystics about this deeper kind of 'learning'?

Gaaye So Paaye July-Oct 2017
Singing Folk Songs of Kabir & Other Mystics with Shabnam Virmani
Non-academic Credit Course for Srishti Students
The course introduces students to the power and joy of folk singing, working with songs of the mystics from the oral traditions of Malwa, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Bengal.

With Srishti students

Unbecoming: Kabir Project in Germany
Workshops & Film Screenings in Germany by Shabnam Virmani, Oct 2017

  • Collaborative workshop with artist Tejal Shah at the invitation of the Kunsthaus, Hamburg bringing into dialogue the themes of Non-Duality & Interdependence in Buddhist & Bhakti perspectives. This was shared with students of the Art Academy and the general public of Hamburg city.
  • Screening & discussion of the film ‘Koi Sunta Hai’ at the Art Academy, Hamburg
  • Presentations on Ajab Shahar & film screening of ‘Had Anhad’ at the University of Heidelberg

‘Performance panel’ at Cumulus Design Conference, Nov 2017
By Shabnam Virmani with Neelkanthh Chhaya, Mandakini Trivedi & Sushma Iyengar
How do the wisdom traditions and artistic practices of the Indian subcontinent evoke Time? Panelists explored this question with the art of poem, song, dance, video, story & conversation to hint at embodied dimensions of Time.

Shabnam Virmani with Sushma Iyengar, Neelkanth Chhaya & Mandakini Trivedi at the Cumulus Conference, Letters to the Future, 2017

Strange Peregrinations: Wanderings in a Mystic City
Workshop at Cumulous Design Conference, Nov 2017
by Smriti Chanchani & Vipul Rikhi 
This workshop led participants into Ajab Shahar, our digital archive on the oral traditions of mystic poetry. In mystic poetry, the body itself is taken as a city. How do we travel here? How do we move along the lines of embodied song and poem? This virtual tour led participants into another dimension of space and time, seeking to bring them home to themselves.

Songs of the Mystics by Mahesha Ram & Troupe
Live concert by Mahesha Ram with narration & translations by Vipul Rikhi
Cumulus Design Conference, Nov 2017

Mahesha Ram & Troupe

Other Talks, Sessions & Workshops –

  • Session on ‘Ulatbansi’ with Srishti foundation students, General Studies course on Nonsense Literature, May 2017
  • Session on ‘Ajab Shahar’ with Srishti students of the course Constructing Archives
  • Session & Film Screening of Chalo Hamara Des with students of oral history participating in the Winter School, Centre for Public History @ Srishti
  • Session with Srishti students on Sound & Shabd, Art(Science)BLR
  • Sessions with students of Sahyadri Krishnamurti School, Pune
  • Talk on ‘Learning from Folk Oral Traditions of Kabir’ at Ramjas College, Sept 2017
  • Panel Discussion at ‘Schools that Care’ conference organised by The Teacher Foundation, Bangalore, July 2017
  • 'Mysticism: Journey from Illusion to Reality', Panel Discussion & Performance at Siyahi, TISS Literature Festival, Mumbai, January 2017
  • Classroom interactions with Masters students of Psychology, Delhi University
  • World Philosophy Day Panel Discussion, New Acropolis, Mumbai & Bangalore
  • Session at ‘She Creates Change’ with women leaders of Change.Org
  • Session with activists of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum, at Baba Budangiri Dattatreya Dargah in Chikmanglur, Dec 2017
  • Interaction with Bikaner youth, Ajith Foundation Annual Day, Bikaner
  • 14th Deepa Martins Memorial Lecture & interaction with school children of St. Stephen’s School, Ajmer

Upcoming in 2018:

Launch of Ajab Shahar
We will go live this year with this website which offers a curated collection of hundreds of songs from the oral traditions of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul poetry, along with interviews, couplets, writings, films and stories all carefully researched, translated and annotated, and drawn from 15 years of research and documentation by the Kabir Project team.

MA Research Opportunities with the Kabir Project

Students are invited to undertake deep inquiries into the poetics, aesthetics, spirituality and politics of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul oral traditions of poetry & music, through self-initiated study under the apprenticeship and guidance of the Kabir Project. The project offers opportunity for experiential learning through participation in the live oral traditions through travel and immersion, classroom discussions, research into the vast repository of direct field recordings and other resources of Ajab Shahar archive as well as texual research and readings. Students would be challenged to ‘intervene’ and become one with the subject being studied, rather than maintain a notional distanced ‘objectivity’.

Students would develop a project idea as a live learning opportunity, involving research, curation, archiving and creative expression that may use video, audio, art, song, performance or text. This could involve documentation into specific regional mystic oral traditions for further enrichment of the Ajab Shahar archive. Other areas of inquiry could include exploring the tensions between the social and spiritual, between struggle and surrender, body and the spirit, oral and the textual… or investigating the vehicle of the ‘poem-song’ itself with its related issues of authorship, market, community, politics of religion, politics of preservation, musicological nuances of form, genre, emotion and expression.

Kabirgaan & Sufi Samvaad Yatra – Gujarat
Travelling festival of Bhakti music & Sufi discourse, Jan 2018
The 3rd edition of this Yatra travelled to 8 villages & towns (Vallabh Vidyanagar, Petlad, Nadiad, Goraj, Bharuch, Kabir Vadh & Kim) with Arif Mohammad Khan giving moving speeches on the spirit of Sufism & plurality in the Indian tradition, followed by a sharing of the ideas, poetry and songs of the mystics by Shabnam Virmani & Vipul Rikhi.

Shabad Dhun Laagi Apr 2018
Songs of the Mystics by Hemant Chauhan, Mitha Khan Jat & Sumar Kadu Jat
With narration & translations by Shabnam Virmani & Vipul Rikhi

Book Publication: One Palace, A Thousand Doorways
Songlines Through Bhakti, Sufi and Baul Oral Traditions
by Vipul Rikhi (with Shabnam Virmani)
(To be published by Speaking Tiger)
A unique book of translations of songs from the oral traditions of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul poetry from India and Pakistan, this book brings together startling juxtapositions from diverse regions and poets. These poems are strung together on the thread of ideas which serve as 'songlines' on which we travel – creating lyrical arcs that connect say a Kabir to a Lalon to a Shah Latif – through shared metaphors or memes such as ‘house’, ‘ocean’ or the ‘path’. Pithily-written introductions to each section open up the layers within each idea and connect them to our lives. 

Book Publication: I Saw Myself
Journeys with Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai
by Vipul Rikhi & Shabnam Virmani
(To be published)
The 18th century Sindhi Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai used famous love legends of Sindh and Punjab, such as Sohini-Mahiwal and Sasui-Punhoon, to weave a web of poetry which plays tantalisingly between the levels of ishq-e-majaazi (worldly love) and ishq-e-haqeeqi (spiritual love). This book retells many of these stories, proposing often surprising interpretations of the legends, along with fresh translations of Shah Latif's vivid and visceral verse.

Gaaye So Paaye Jan-Mar, 2018
Singing Folk Songs of Kabir & Other Mystics with Shabnam Virmani
Non-academic Credit Course for Srishti Students

Partnerships & Funding

The project has been supported by the Ford Foundation, Wipro Applying Thought in Schools, Raza Foundation and some individual donations.


Art & Design: Smriti Chanchani
Writing & Research: Vipul Rikhi
Research & Production Support: Prashant Parvatneni & Namrata Ratnam
Technical & Administration: Psalm Paul
Direction: Shabnam Virmani

The Kabir Project team

Web Links

Informal satsang with Madan Gopal & Co.

Kabir project in conversation with Linda Hess

Parvathy Baul helps interpret her songs

Picking up the Tambura

Recording music in villages of Kutch

Unearthing old songs

Village concerts

Village concerts

Vipul Rikhi's music concert at Humming Tree Bangalore