The Music of the Mystics—Towards understand, appreciating & singing. led by Vidya Rao (Registration Closed)

This is planned as a five-day workshop. It will include listening, discussing and understanding, and learning to sing.
No previous knowledge of music is needed.

There are at least several aspects to consider for discussions around the experience of listening to music and singing it ourselves: the poetry, the underlying philosophical concepts, and the musical forms.

Poetry, the meanings of the poetry, life histories of the poets, and even of contemporary interpreters have been dealt with most often in other forums. Embedded philosophical ideas and connections have also been dealt with– to some extent. This workshop hopes to look at all those aspects, while also considering musical forms used by different groups/singers in performance, and how musical form to creates its own set of meanings.

There are other aspects that may be less obvious but would certainly be important to consider. We will try and unearth some of these also through discussion and attempt to understand these as well. One such could well be the notion of communities that come into being through the act of singing. The notion of community itself, and its solidity/transience. Another would be unearthing notions that we might now call contemporary questions and concerns.

1. The poetry of bhakti

We would take 4 verses by different poets– ex. Kabir, Surdas, Meera, and Amir Khusrau—all of whom are well-known. We will attempt to see their work through lenses poetic, philosophical, social, and musical. In the course of the discussion, other perspectives may open up, and we would welcome this.

2. The philosophical ideas within the poetry

What are the references contained within it… The connection between the ideas within these texts and the reminders that we may perceive of Buddhist teachings– like the four immeasurables, shunyata, pratitya samutpada.

3. The music, the musical style.

Different styles and their effect on the poetry and its meanings.

4. Notions of the community

In the process, and at every stage other questions will come up. One of these that particularly interests me is the notion of community that is created by the music/ at the moment of singing.

5. Other questions of contemporary significance

Mystic poetry in the light of our contemporary concerns is what we would explore.

Issues around caste, women’s status, speech and action, equality, etc. Since mystics have also been voices of protest, exploration of what exactly is this voice of protest.

The workshop is planned as an in-depth live 5 days long workshop.
Participants should register beforehand and should be prepared to attend all sessions.

The workshop will use a combination of actual learning of songs, and singing by participants, plus careful and mindful listening to other recordings.

Vidya Rao is a performer of thumri-dadra and ghazal. For many years the
disciple of the legendary singer, the late Vidushi Naina Devi, she continued
her study of this form under the late Vidushi Shanti Hiranand and the late
Vidushi Girija Devi. Her initial training in khayal was under the late Prof.
B.N. Datta and thereafter under Pandit Mani Prasad.

She studied Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, and has worked
as a Research Associate with the Administrative Staff of India (Hyderabad)
and the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (Delhi). She has been
Editor, Social Sciences with Orient Blackswan publishers (Delhi), where
she now continues to work as an Editorial Consultant.

An award-winning artist, Vidya Rao has performed at national and
international forums to appreciative audiences. She has lectured at many
forums, and has conducted workshops and lecture-demonstrations. She
has composed and sung for the theatre, film and dance, and has also
recorded several CDs.

Her repertoire ranges over thumri-dadra, ghazal and allied forms, the songs
of medieval sufi and bhakti poets, verses from Hindu and Buddhist texts
and the Islamic forms of naat, soz, nauha etc.

She has also researched and written extensively on music and the
performing arts. Her research and writing work has focused on gender and
musical form, and her work has been published in academic journals and
as chapters in books. Her book ‘Heart to Heart: Remembering Nainaji’ is
a memoir of life with her guru Naina Devi.

Vidya Rao was the recipient of a Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, and
a Senior Fellowship from the Department of Culture, GOI. She has been
Visiting Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi, and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced
Study, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. In 2012-2013, she was Fellow at the
Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes, France. In 2014 she was Artist in
Residence at Smith College and the Five Colleges Inc. She has been
adviser to the Kabir Project, has recorded a CD for them and also
translated the poetry included in the booklets brought out by the project.







Oct 03 - 07 2023


Deer Park Institute, Bir
Deer Park Institute