An initiative of the Menil Collection with cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in the Greater Houston area.
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Riyaaz Qawwali performs Narsi’s poem “Vaishnava Janato”

Oct 5
7:39 pm
By Menil


Vaishnava Jana to is a poem by the 15th-century saint Narasinha Mehta, popularly known as Narsi. It was a favorite of Gandhi’s and was sung as a bhajan, or devotional song, on many important occasions, such as the beginning of his 1930 Salt March, which began a widespread campaign of civil disobedience and protest effort that contributed greatly to the ending of British colonial rule in South Asia in 1947.

Here Riyaaz renders the verses in the qawwali style. A rendition appears on their 2013 album Kashti, available on the Riyaaz website, where you’ll find more information on the group. A number of more traditional renderings can be found on the Web, including this one by Pandit Jasraj.

Riyaaz performs at the Menil Collection on October 20, 2014, in a program paying homage to Gandhi and the poets he loved, and including Vaishnava Jana to.

For more on the poem and the song, see the translation and essay by Neelima Shukla-Bhatt in the Menil’s book Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence.
Prof. Shukla-Bhatt has also written a book on the poet, Narasinha Mehta of Gujarat: A Legacy of Bhakti in Songs and Stories (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).