Set in a battlefield, Bhagavad Gita is an allegory for struggles to establish dhamma or good behaviour. It was with this spirit that noted bhajan singer Anup Jalota broke his own pratigya (vow) not to ever perform in Pakistan and held a bhajan concert in Pakistan's Sindh last week.
A few days after the two countries' border security forces exchanged sweets to celebrate Diwali, Jalota (64), electrified the 50,000-strong audience at Sindh's Sai Satram Ashram- held bhajan concert with some of his Urdu songs from Bhagavad Gita. "My job as a musician is to close the cleavages, promote peace and reduce hostility," Jalota told TOI before flying off to London where he was to perform on Sunday at a concert.
"True that I announced in February this year that I would not hold any commercial show in Pakistan, but Sai Satram Ashram of Sindh was approaching me for long. This time I agreed and decided to take the message of Gita across the border," says Jalota. He claims several Muslims attended the concert. "My message is clear. We can't afford to make this world a Kurukshetra. We must change it into a peaceful place."
Son of bhajan singer Purushottamdas Jalota (he had sung in Mahatma Gandhi's prayer meetings), Jalota has created a massive following out of singing Hindi devotional numbers, including shlokas from the Gita. But he is currently on a mission to take the Gita's message to the Muslim world. "My Pakistan concert is part of this mission," he says. He plans to hold similar concerts in the Gulf countries too.
He is recording the Gita in Urdu and will soon cut a recording in Urdu of the epic. Aiding him in this Herculean task is Lucknow-based poet Anwar Jalalpuri who has converted the Gita's 701 shlokas into 1,761 Urdu couplets. "I read Gita in Hindi, English and Urdu and have a little knowledge of Sanskrit too. The Gita fascinates me for the logical interpretations of life's situations it presents," Jalapuri said on phone from Lucknow.
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Six years ago, Jalalpuri, through a common friend, met Jalota and tied up for the project. Jalalpuri's book Urdu Shairi Mein Gita (Gita in Urdu Poetry) which has won him many accolades, including UP government's highest award the Yash Barti, cast a spell on Jalota. "Its lines are simple and convey the message convincingly. I have already recorded around 1,000 couplets and will record the rest soon. I want to take Gita's message to everyone, including Muslims," says Jalota.
A devout Muslim, Jalalpuri says the Gita is significant also because of the words of wisdom it carries despite being the oldest scripture on earth. "The Gita is 5,000 years old, much older than all other religious texts. It is not just about the dialogues between Pandava prince Arjun and his charioteer and guide Krishna on the battlefield. Its message is universal and eternal," says Jalapuri who has also translated many verses from the Quran into Urdu poetry.
Explaining how he converted the Gita's shlokas into Urdu couplets, he cites the initial shloka which talks about Dhritrashtra, the blind king to whom his charioteer Sanjaya narrates the events in the Kurukshetra war. The epic, in Jalalpuri's translation, opens thus: " Dhritrashtra ankhon se mahroom the/Magar yeh na samjho ke woh masoom the (Dhritrashtra was blind/ But don't think that he was unaware of the happenings around him). Unless you know the history of Kurukshetra, you can't appreciate the true message of Gita, the poet explains.
The Gita's emphasis on karm (work or action) has both Jalota and Jalalpuri amazed. "The simple line that man should just do his work and leave the rest to God is enticing. If the world practices this formula, much of its miseries will vanish," says the singer. It was to perform a noble karm that took the singer to Pakistan.