A Delicate Weave: Folk Singers from Western India Celebrate Diversity in The Face of Intolerance
Anjali Monteiro, Jayasankar K. P. , 5 Dec 17

Zarina Sodha, from Lakhpath Kachchh, Gujarat (western India), a folk singer. Anjali Monteiro/KP Jayakrishnan

A Delicate Weave (Jhini Bini Chadariya), a documentary film set in Kachchh, Gujarat in Western India, traces four different musical journeys, all converging in the ways they affirm religious diversity, syncretism (blending of religions and cultures) and love of the other in a country where religious politics too often divide communities.

Drawing on the poetic and musical traditions of poet-mystics Saint Kabir of Benaras (circa 1500) and Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai of Sindh (1689–1752), as well as the folk traditions of the region, these remarkable musicians and singers bear testimony to how these oral traditions of compassion are being passed down from one generation to the next.

Naranbhai Siju, Weaver and Community Archivist. KP Jayasankar

It can take several forms. In Bhujodi, a village close to the city of Bhuj, in Gujarat, a group of young men meets every night to sing devotional songs.

They are all weavers and feel a special bond with Kabir, who was also a weaver. They are mentored by Naranbhai Siju, a carpet weaver by profession and a remarkable self-taught community archivist, who spends his spare time recording and annotating this body of devotional music.

The women from Lakhpat, an ancient port close to the border between India and Pakistan, quietly subvert gender roles through their folk music performances. They are the first group of women in Kachchh to perform in public – and this has changed their lives.

The women’s group at the Lakhpat Gurudwara. KP Jayasankar

Noor Mohammad Sodha is a master flautist from Bhuj who has been playing the jodiya pawa or double flute for more than 25 years, performing in India and also overseas. He has recently begun teaching three young people his skills, in the hope that this tradition will live on.

Noor Mohammed Sodha, Master flautist from Bhuj. KP Jayasankar

Jiant Khan, 60, lives in the Banni grasslands of the area. On two nights every week, he meets people who travel from far-flung villages to sing the verses of the Sufi poet Shah Bhitai in the musical Waee form, a style from the northwest of India and beyond, performed with string instruments.

Five years ago, there were only three people left in India who sang this rare and ethereal form – now the number has gone up to eight.

Jiant Khan, Waee Singer and Teacher, Jaloo Village. KP Jayasankar

All these passionate musicians keep alive this delicate weave, committed to the project of what Naranbhai calls “breaking down the walls” – walls that have been built up through the politics of hate and intolerance that marks current times.

Pastoralists living in harmony

Since 2008, our team from the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai have been creating video documentaries of the music of pastoral communities, in the region of Kachchh in Gujarat. This has resulted in the making of our three films – Do Din Ka Mela (A Two-Day Fair), So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here Like There) and A Delicate Weave.

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