Kabir’s views on gender justice, as well as inequality, were major talking points at the festival, which drew participants from across the world.

Five centuries after his death, the poems of Kabir are relevant to contemporary society more than ever. The mystic poet, known as a giant of the Bhakti movement along with Tulsidas and Guru Nanak, fought class, caste and gender prejudices to bring about change in medieval India. With the country grappling with the same issues several centuries later, the Varanasi-born Kabir’s verses still pack the same fervour to force change in society.

Singers & scholars
“Kabir khara bazaar mein/Mange sabki khair/Na kahu se dosti na kahu se bair” (Kabir stands in the marketplace/Asks for everyone’s prosperity/Neither friendship nor enmity for anyone) sang Sufi singer Mooralala Marwada as a packed audience at the Shivala Ghat by the Ganges in Varanasi chanted every word back. The entertaining folk singer from Kutch, sporting a twirling moustache, was part of the country’s top musicians performing at the Mahindra Kabira Festival held in Varanasi.

The festival was held on the ghats of Varanasi; Hindustani vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty (left) performing at Shivala Ghat; classical musician Vidya Rao added a verse of Guru Nanak to her Kabir poem (middle); and vocalist and Banaras Hindu University chair Malini Awasthi enthralled the audience with Kabir’s poems.

In its third year, the festival put together concerts, talks and walks to remember Kabir on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death this year. Among the singers performing at the Guleria and Shivala Ghats were revered musicians Malini Awasthi and Vidya Rao, and their younger counterparts Shruthi Vishwanath and Kaushiki Chakraborty. The literature sessions held at the Kabir Math, where the poet spent a large part of his life composing verses, had Kabir scholar Purushottam Agrawal and author Devdutt Pattnaik.