The annual World Sacred Spirit Festival in Rajasthan brings some of the best talent in classical and folk music while keeping a Sufi flavour. Harsimran Shergill finds out what has been bringing people here for ten years.
When Maharaja Sardar Singh of Jodhpur built the Jaswant Thada in 1899, he could not have imagined the transformation it would go through a century later. At a short distance from the Mehrangarh Fort, the historical landmark has welcomed musicians from around the world to participate in its Sufiana music revelry for ten years.
This February marked a milestone anniversary for the World Sacred Spirit Festival (earlier known as World Sufi Festival) and Jodhpur assumed frivolous colours to celebrate this occasion. The sunset draped the blue city in shades of pink and yellow as Ustad Irshad Khan, the majesty of sitar and surbahar, sat affront the calm Devkund Lake and sang of love, loss, and longing. Above him, flocks of homebound birds dramatically flitted past at regular intervals in approval of every word he sang. I pinched myself twice, thinking this cannot be real—but this is exactly true for experiences that touch so deep—a camera or words cannot do justice in their replication. This was one of the many moments that has made the World Sacred Spirit Festival a sought-after festivals in India.
While I waited for the first experience to sink in, Madan Gopal Singh & Char Yaar accompanied by the Manganiyars tuned their instruments for the next performance. Quoting sonnets from Kabir to Bulleh Shah, Madan Gopal, a regular performer at the festival, illustrated his flair for amplifying each verse with his quick wit. The Manganiyars, who are traditional folk singers of Rajasthan, joined the Char Yaar in songs of Heer and Ranja, Mast Qalandar (an annual favourite), and a jugalbandi, pulling the crowd from their seats to their feet.
The camaraderie between the two groups as of others was evident throughout the festival. Be it a collaboration between Mongolian performer Epi and the Marwar Ensemble, spectacular performances by classical artists like Sahar and Milad Mohammadi, Mehdi Teimouriney, Hossein Rezaeeniadaf from Iran, or Lingling Yu’s effortless mastery over the Pipa, a Chinese flute. Shruti Mishra, a festival-goer who had travelled from Pune with her husband and their three-year old daughter, explained it quite accurately, “It is perhaps the only festival we’ve been to, where so many people from different cultures unite for one
cause. It’s a celebration of the Sufi spirit.”The glorious musical journey lingered on and overflowed onto my whereabouts in the city.
Standing tall at Rao Jodha Park is the Singhoria Pol which served as the gateway to the city of Jodhpur in the 17th century; now it provides a meeting spot for nature lovers to embark on nature walks with writer, filmmaker and naturalist, Pradip Krishen. His passion for indigenous plants and rocks is evident in the magic he gently weaves in describing every plant by its biological name, flowering season,and a story. It took several years of trial and error,he says, to find out which plants are indigenous to the area because they had “only one painting as reference.” He has strived since to bring as many varieties of desert plants to the park as possible.
A trail through the Gully—the park’s earliest trail—leads visitors through a narrow, hand hewn canyon of rock that opens out to reveal the fort and the gorgeous Blue City from a vantage point. Ranisar, the western range of the park is criss-crossed with several walking trails,one of which leads to an artificial lake. As I sat in the open-air restaurant that overlooks the Meherangarh Fort, I was already making plans to come back next year.