Muslim man sings praises of Hindu deities

00:00 Jun 4 2015 Mumbai

Jun 04 2015 : The Times of India (Mumbai)
Sandhya Soman
In life and in football, balance is everything.Shaikh Riyazoddin Abdul Gani would add a Maharashtrian folk art to this list. For years he has balanced a water-filled kalash on his head on stage. Gani would then sing soulful Meera bhajans and abhangs, while plucking a veena and joyfully twirling as if light as a feather.
In this avatar, he is the famous `Rajubaba Kirtankar', who won awards and has regaled the faithful at temples and prayer meets. He has also managed to rekindle faith and transform drunkards.
No, it is not the just the power of music that brings about transformations. “It is the bhagwan in us,“ says the artiste in true Warkari tradition, all set for his Spic Macay performance at IIT-Bombay on Thursday .
Nothing about the softspoken 73-year-old from Beed prepares for the emotive rendering of Wari kirtans, the ecstatic dancing or the fascination he holds for Hinduism. “The beard is a recent one as my boy isn't getting a wife from the community ,“ says Rajubaba. Now, Rajubaba does namaaz five times a day. “I go to five different masjids so that everyone sees me like this,“ he laughs. His childhood wasn't easy . Young Gani used to sit outside temples to learn kirtans that attracted him so much. Eventually Hindus accepted Riyazoddin, by then shortened to an acceptable Raju.When he realized that people were falling asleep, he adopted the dancing-singing tradition, which was started by Namdev. Raju gave it a twist.
“While bringing water from the river, he used to sing. That gave him the idea of dancing with a pot on the head,“ says Dr Prakash Khandge, head of Lok Kala Academy , Mumbai University. His family was far from pleased.
When they threatened to leave the village, he moved out. “I returned and got married only because of my amma's mohabbat,“ says Rajubaba. He says he could run his family and marry off four daughters as a kirtankar.People started giving tips, especially after his name became popular. Khandge says there is nobody in Maharashtra like Rajubaba now. There would be no one like him in the future as his children and kirtankar apprentices shy away from his act. “It is tough to get that balance,“ says Omkar Jaunjal, who accompanies him. Rajubaba is resigned but the spark to reinvent seems alive. “I am stuck in this world of maya and family responsibilities.Maybe, I will check with the Guinness Book people as I have done something different,“ he says. Six hundred years ago, an illiterate poet spoke his mind needling both Hindus and Muslims about their shortcomings. Today , Kabeer is considered a saint and his pithy couplets are memorized by schoolchildren across India.

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