The power of Sufi music lies in its appeal across all religions and traditions, in its ability to bring people together rather than divide them, says famous Sufi singer and performer Bhavin Shastri, who did a wide-ranging interview on ITV Gold’s popular program “Insight Tonight With Ashok Vyas,” June 26.
“Sufi sangeet has Arab roots and that may be why it gets connected to Islam, but we cannot say it is ‘Islamic’ – if you look at Mira (Bai) and Narsi (Bhagat),” contemporaries who were deep devotees of Krishna, Bhavin Shastri said during his interview. “This whole tradition is about God and Love – on the relationship between Aashiq And Maashuq,” (Lover and the Beloved), he added. “It is about souls coming together.
Shastri, an engineer by training who left the corporate world to become a Sufi singer, is a versatile performer renowned as the playback singer in the 2015 movie- Manjhi: The Mountain Man, a true story about a man who built a road singlehandedly to connect his village of Gehlur, Bihar to services like the hospital after his wife died. The film was made by award-winning director Ketan Mehta.
Breaking into song in a powerful voice, Shastri delivered a couple of lines from the song “O Raahi, O Raahi, Tu Roshni Ka Sipahi …” a song written by Mehta.
And most recently, Shastri is known for composing the slogan song “NaMo Again” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2019 re-election campaign, one that was played around the country to rouse crowds, and dwelt on the charismatic leader’s accomplishments.
Shastri spoke about the meaning of existence in this world, that ‘jannat’ or heaven was in the present, not in the past or future that individuals worry about constantly. “Live in the present. If you can do something in this life, then that is heaven.”
He played down the importance of the journey or experiences that brought him to the Sufi music fold. Instead, he said, the journey is as the Lord says, “Karma hi dharma hai,” (roughly translated to mean your deeds are your religion).
“Your being on earth is the biggest prize … and then your karma is what you do on earth,” he noted, in an interview that touched on subjects like philosophy, folk music, tradition, Gujarati pride, and ways of life, occasionally breaking into powerful renditions of snippets from his favorite songs.
He was accompanied at the interview by folk singer Bhavika, who spoke of how she had been influenced by her mother in learning the music of the people, and how she felt about Shastri’s performances.
Asked what kind of books he read, Shastri mentioned Osho (Rajneesh) “a lot” as well as India’s late President and physicist/aerospace scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, about whom the Sufi singer spoke at length.
Within 3 days of Kalam’s death on July 27, 2015, Shastri said he designed a show – Kalam ko Salam…Tujhko Chalna Hoga — which went on to be performed around the country over the next three years. The show contained some 25-30 songs with saying by Kalam intertwined into songs. “He should not be forgotten … ever,” Bhavin Shartri said emotionally. “Anything I saw about Kalam Sahab – there is a song that comes into being. Like the Gayatri Mantra. There is no greater human being dreated in this world than Kalam Sahab,” he contended.
“Paper bech kar rashtrapati bane,” are the words in one of the songs Shastri enunciated.
The entertaining interview, both serious and fun, was full of anecdotes Shastri used to color his stories, drawing upon folkore such as King Akbar and his Sufi palace singer Tansen, the relationship between a guru and his commitment to the music and to his inner self; that a singer’s biggest gift is an audience that makes no demands on the artist. “There are some things that are beyond ordinary performances,” he noted, and mentioned famous singers like K.L. Saigal to Ajit Singh, and Kailash Kher’s “Teri Deewani” giving listeners heartfelt and melodious lines.
In mentioning the various famous people who embodied the Sufi spirit, Shastri referred to Sai Baba, Guru Govind, Mirabai, Vivekananda,
He ended his interview by singing, “Hai Preet Jahan Ki Reet Sada, Main Geet Wahaan Ke Gaata Hoon. Bharat Ka Rehenewala Hoon, Bharat Ke Geet Sunata Hoon.”
“The objective should be to bring people together, I have come to this country with my traditions and culture … and to spread India’s culture, I have come to your studio,” Shastri concluded.