Amidst the sea of sand- Dapu Khan- a Merasi musician, who is also an exponent of Kamiacha, one of the oldest bowed instruments of the world- carries a 1500 year-old legacy in his powerful and soulful music.
His rustic voice creates a mental picture of the endless dunes that play with the winds in the desert of Rajasthan. He sings of Kabir, of finding long-lost love and love stories that are still alive in the sun-kissed sands. His name is Dapu Khan, a Merasi musician who is also an exponent of Kamiacha, one of the oldest bowed instruments of the world.
Dapu Khan, who lives in the village Bhadli near Jaisalmer had come to Jaipur as a part of the ongoing Rajasthan Kabir Yatra which travels across Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Jaisalmer regions. The audience in the amphitheatre at the Jawahar Kala Kendra welcomed Dapu Khan with a thunderous applause and whistles that spoke of the musician’s popularity amongst all age groups. His soulful renditions of Kabir’s bhajans entranced every one present and they all kept nodding their heads and clapping their hands to the beat.
Despite his popularity, Dapu Khan’s simplicity reminded me of bhajans that he had just sung. Here are some excerpts from the tete-e-tat:
Since when have you been singing Kabir’s bhajans?
Kabir’s bhajans are very old and I have been singing at least eight of his bhajans since a very long time.
Why is Kabir so popular even today?
Kabir’s works speak of the world, he speaks of selfless action, he does not criticise anyone nor does he praise anyone. He is only connected with the supreme power. He tells people that you shall only reap what you sow. He talks about cleansing one’s own mind and heart and keeping the five senses in check. ‘Kabir Kabir kya kare, socho aap sharir, panch indriyan vash karo, aphi das Kabir.’ (Why do you keep calling out to Kabir, control your five senses and you will also become like Kabir).
What attracts today’s youth to Kabir?
People who have started knowing Kabir through music or through teachers or hermits are drawn to Kabir’s works because of their simplicity and the eternal truth that they speak.
What is your experience with Kabir Yatra?
This is the first time I have been associated with Kabir Yatra and so far its been a good experience.
What is your take on the today’s audience for the ancient Indian arts like yours?
Indian tourists and Indian people visiting India from abroad value these arts more than people who live here. The ones who come visit from other countries like to hear these songs and even record them and take them back with them.
What else do you do besides playing music and singing?
I have old books of all religions and great writers. I read them whenever I get time. I also help people to find their lost things by smelling and calculating the names and numbers of people they are associated with. I also calculate the day and the month and season too matters. This is a calculation which has been passed through word of mouth from our ancestors.
Dapu Khan’s life seems to be a reflection of the Sufi Bhajans that he sings. He is an ardent believer of the goddess Karni of Deshnokh and has named his sons after her. He sings his songs with an abandon that matches that of the well-known saints. This unassuming man is one of the few exponents of Kamiacha, an instrument created out of a single piece of wood, and has not been changed since the last 500 years.
The burgeoning crowd at the Rajasthan Kabir Festival is a clear indication of the fact that Indian audience still enjoys listening to musicians like Dapu Khan. However, unlike the Bollywood movies or other forms of popular art that are publicised days in advance, there seems to be a dearth of publicity when it comes to these festivals. The lack of space seems to be another problem that plagues such events. The amphitheatre at the Jawahar Kala Kendra was almost full but people still found place to sit on the grass and on the steps. Today, our folk artists and their artforms need a new rendezvous with the youth who enjoy them when they get a chance. The atmosphere is created, all we need is to spread the word and create some space in our halls and hearts.
Published Author, Poet and Musician
This article was published in Rashtradoot’s newspaper’s Arbit section on October 4, 2019