And so, at the Kumbh, tunes chase the ear, from one enclosure to the other. The range is astonishing and eclectic.
For, remember, this is a Mela, a carnival, and more often than not, the origin of what comes out of the loudspeakers
is from the country’s film industry, as much as from the scriptures. Catchy raucous pop songs slide into the softer,
stirring, tones of the Indian classical tradition. It’s a feast for the ears, even if the menu’s sheer range can make
it hard to digest.
Another musical link to Hinduism is the ancient tradition of ‘mantra’ - sacred verses. Mantras can be best described as
a mode of communication between man and God. A mantra can simply be an ode to God, but then it is also believed that
there are mantras powerful enough to destroy a man. The key to using any mantra is to render it in the manner directed
by the sacred religious books and with correct pronunciation. During this Kumbh, a rare phenomenon occurred - a total
lunar eclipse on the full moon day, and traditionally this period is observed by reciting prayers to Gods. Recorded
here is Swami Yogi Prakash - renowned yogastrologist - reciting prayers to Goddess Durga , the female manifestation of
ultimate energy at the high point of the eclipse.
Though to recite mantras one may require a Guru, singing bhajans or devotional songs require a different kind of
training. A good voice and the will to go through many years of classical music training are the minimum requirements.
Performances by seniors in these arts are also a Kumbh feature. For instance, Tuesday night witnessed a performance by
Richa Johri, a trained classical singer.
But out amongst the crowds of the Mela, it is devotional songs sung in a group that are the most popular. Audible
across the mela, at all hours of day or night, anyone may join in with these ‘Keertans’, or just sit and listen.
A low-key start usually swells, as the mood catches and the fervour rises. Keertans celebrating the life of Krishna,
as recorded here, are a staple of the tradition.