Mahindra Kabira Festival, known for offering an immersive experience inspired by Kabir’s teachings, is back with its sixth edition. This year the festival will be held from 18th – 20th November 2022 on the majestic ghats of Benares. To quote the great American author Mark Twain, “Benares is older than history, older then tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all them put together.”
Mahindra Kabira Festival offers a unique confluence of folk, classical, and indie music as well as literature, intellectual and spiritual exchange of ideas and culture, heritage walks through the narrow lanes of Benares, boat rides on the Ganges, and an array of local cuisine, among many other things.
In this interview, Jay Shah, Vice-President, Head – Cultural Outreach, Mahindra Group shares the highlights of the Mahindra Kabira Festival this year while also addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic. He also reflects upon the festival’s journey while touching upon the importance of cultural outreach to help promote the local artists.
Excerpts
Q. What can we expect this year? What will be the highlights according to you?
A. For this year, the festival will feature an exemplary line-up of artistes and performers namely The Raghu Dixit Project, Jasleen Aulakh, Pandit Vikash Maharaj Trio, Fouzia Dastango and many more. The highlight for this season will be a soulful Carnatic musical performance by Padma Shri awardee Aruna Sairam and an exclusive masterclass on the art of puppetry at the festival by Dadi D. Pudumjee.

Jay Shah, Vice-President, Head, Cultural Outreach, Mahindra Group.

Q. Given the uncertainty created by the pandemic over the last couple of years how challenging it has been to continue with the festival at the Ghats of Varanasi?
A. Due to the pandemic the 2020 edition could not be hosted. After witnessing high demand, the festival made a comeback last season (2021) at a single venue ensuring a 360° safety towards all stakeholders. This year we saw an all-time high audience enquiry to be a part of the festival and we invite all Kabir lovers to be a part of the experience.
Q. What does the Mahindra Kabira Festival mean to the Mahindra Group? What other cultural initiatives does the Mahindra Group undertake across the calendar?
 A. The festival is to revive and let people become aware of the 15th century mystic poet Kabir’s teachings and his simple way of life. In a post-pandemic era, his teachings become more relevant to the contemporary world. Furthermore, his teachings resonate with the core values established by the Mahindra Group founders. At the festival one can witness these teachings come alive in the form of various genres of music and the arts – from folk to classical and pop to new age.
Apart from the Mahindra Kabira Festival, the Mahindra Group brews deep into some of the most celebrated cultural outreach programmes across the calendar namely Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards and Festival (META); Mahindra Blues Festival; Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival and Mahindra Independence Rock.
Q. The pandemic exposed the plight of the artists not just in India but all across the globe. What measures were taken by you (personally and / or by the group) to help the artists overcome the financial losses that they have suffered?
A. Mahindra Kabira Festival believes in the foundation of inclusivity and building a community of like-minded people. Over the years, the festival has supported many local artistes and artisans from Benares. Creating opportunities, the festival ensures participation of the Indian folk artists.
The festival closely works with Art Matters advocacy programme which provides a platform to support artistes and crafts people financially. From all the pandemic chaos, a major chunk of artistes from Benares has been a part of the initiative consecutively.
Q. How do you expect a festival like Mahindra Kabira to help promote the local artists, especially after the lull we witnessed due to the pandemic over the last two years or so?
A. Celebrating the arts and its artistes has been one of the major USPs of the festival. Over the past five years Mahindra Kabira has been relentlessly working with local artistes majorly from the Benares Gharana marking equal participation throughout all its editions. Earlier the festival has showcased local Benaresi artistes namely Pandit Anoop Misra, Atul Shankar, Sucharita Gupta and Vishnu Mishra amongst others. This year too, the festival will feature highly skilled artistes from Benares Gharana namely the sarod maestro Pandit Vikash Maharaj along with his sons Prabhash Maharaj and Abhishek Maharaj; vocalist Ashish Kumar Jaiswal; theology professor Umesh Kabir; and santoor artist Kumar Sarang. Post the pandemic, the festival aims to highlight every art form by programming local skilled artistes from every part of the continent whilst celebrating ‘Kabir in every sense’.
 Q. How do you reflect upon the festival›s journey so far? Also tell us about the key achievements of the last five editions.
A. The festival has come across a long way since its very first edition at the ghats of the mighty Ganga. The festival has been successful in spreading the word across countries including – UAE, USA, Belgium, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, UK, etc. With the support of major Kabir Panthi artists like Shabnam Virmani, Mooralala Marwada, Neeraj Arya of Kabir Café etc. Mahindra Kabira has hosted over 500 artists so far.
The previous editions of the festival have seen many ups and downs. The Yale certificate of being a Green Festival in 2018 and Mahindra Kabira being listed as part of the top 5 green festivals in the country are some of the major achievements, among others.