About Us

The Kabir project brings together the experiences of a series of ongoing journeys in quest of this 15th century north Indian mystic poet as well as other Bhakti and Sufi poets in our contemporary worlds. Started in 2003, these journeys inquire into the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Kabir’s poetry through songs, images and conversations.

We journey through a stunning diversity of social, religious and musical traditions which Kabir inhabits, exploring how his poetry intersects with ideas of cultural identity, secularism, nationalism, religion, death, impermanence, folk and oral knowledge systems. The core inspiration of the project is music, and Kabir comes alive in 4 documentary films, 10 audio CDs and poetry books through the power of song.

This is an initiative undertaken by filmmaker Shabnam Virmani as an artist-in-residency project at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India. Smriti Chanchani (design), Vipul Rikhi (writing and translations) and Psalm Paul (admin) provide core contributions. The project has been supported at various stages by the Ford Foundation, New Delhi, Raza Foundation, New Delhi, Wipro Applying Thought in Schools, Bangalore, and Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore.

Apart from the films, CDs and books, the true spirit of the Kabir Project lies in the taana-baana (warp & weft) of social networks and friendships built over these years between the singers, scholars, activists, artists, illustrators, students, music lovers and lay persons who have been woven together through student labs, festivals, workshops and other exchanges. Folk singers Prahlad Tipanya, Mahesha Ram, Parvathy Baul, Kaluram Bamaniya, Mooralala Marwada, Mukhtiyar Ali and others have become deep friends, giving the project its soul force. Our advisors include scholars Linda Hess and Purushottam Agrawal, poet Ashok Vajpeyi, singer Vidya Rao, and ethnomusicologist Shubha Chaudhuri.

The project has been journeying into these spaces –

Constructing Ajab Shahar

In some ways the culmination of our work of the last decade, we expect to go live this year with Ajab Shahar – a vast online repository of songs, poetry and ideas of Kabir and other mystic poets drawn from our travels and research into the oral traditions of the Indian region and thereabouts over the last 13 years.

The website will offer a curated collection of over 500 songs, reflections and stories all carefully researched, translated and annotated. We are developing the first phase of the website in partnership with ThoughtWorks and the second phase will be executed by Langoor, both web development firms based in Bangalore.

Extensive video editing, poetry research, translations and writing for the website is underway. We have launched a dedicated YouTube video channel called Ajab Shahar, where we have started uploading our materials in anticipation of the site being launched at: https://www.youtube.com/user/Kabirproject.
We have also started uploading our music albums onto the OK Listen online music site. https://www.oklisten.com/labels/label/thekabirproject.

Curating Shah Latif

Since 2010 our team has been working on the poetry of the Sindhi Sufi poet – Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai - whose oral traditions span both sides of the border between India and Pakistan. Shah’s poetry draws on the power and beauty of both Yogic and Sufi philosophy, melding the two streams into one poetic and spiritual vision. We are curating two distinct styles of music - kaafi & waee - in which Shah’s poems find contemporary expression in the Kutch region of Gujarat in western India.

We have presented a festival featuring the music of Mooralala Marwada and the Waee singers of Kutch (Mitha Khan & Sumar Kadu Jat), interwoven with story telling and interpretation of the love legends through which Latif expresses his poems. We are finishing work on a book entitled “I Saw Myself: Journeys with Shah Latif in Kutch” co-authored by Vipul Rikhi & Shabnam Virmani and currently being designed by Smriti Chanchani (described in greater detail in the section called Publications).

Upcoming Publications

The following are in various stages of writing and design and we are currently looking for the right publishing partners for these book projects.

One Tree, One Parrot
Illustrated Book
By Vishakha Chanchani & the children of HBP School
Translation and Design: Smriti Chanchani

This is a slim children’s book based on a Kabir song and Buddhist parable, which tells the story of a brave parrot who puts out a forest fire. It is the result of a rich 6-month exchange between artist and educator Vishakha Chanchani and the children of a government school in Bangalore, where they produced an original script, picture scroll and dance-drama inspired by this story. The script and children’s illustrations have been adapted to make this book, which is bilingual (Hindi + English).

In the Whirlpool Cave, and Other Stories
Children’s Tales for Adults
By Vipul Rikhi

This is a book of children’s stories, fabulous and magical, which take off from the complex ideas put forth in some of the mystic poetry we work with. The stories bring body, personality and a sense of fun to intriguing mystic ideas - such as the whirlpool cave or the vast sky-circle or an upside-down world or the body as a house with ten doorways - while subtly exploring the depth contained in the ideas themselves. There are 5 stories, with about 10 song texts and translations (to which the stories refer), and beautifully rendered illustrations. The stories are in a near final stage.

Where’s Paradise, my Friend?
Bhakti, Sufi and Baul songs in translation
Book - Anthology of Poems
By Vipul Rikhi & Shabnam Virmani

This is a collection of translations of poems drawn from the oral traditions of Bhakti, Sufi and Baul poetry of the subcontinent, capturing the deep beauty, longings and fulfilments expressed in the songs of the saints. These songs are not to be found in published texts but reflect the multiple poetic expressions that flower in the oral traditions. The songs and introduction will share a sense of wonder at these diversity of expressions, and yet the deep commonality of concerns to be found in the voices of Kabir, Shah Latif Bhitai, Lalon Fakir and many other lesser-known poets. The book will be organized around certain evocative images or ideas - des, ghar, piya, gagan, death and kaaya to name a few - and trace conversations and resonances between bhakti, sufi and baul voices across the oral traditions spanning a range of languages, from Malwi, Marwadi, Kutchi and Sindhi, to Bengali.

I Saw Myself
Journeys with Kabir and Latif in Kutch
Book + 3 audio CDs
Singers: Mooralala Marwada / Mitha Khan Jat, Sumar Kadu Jat & Jaan Mohammad
Writers: Vipul Rikhi & Shabnam Virmani
Design: Smriti Chanchani

This book is inspired by the work of the great Sindhi poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, and journeys into the oral traditions of this poet in the border region of Kutch. It explores the ideas in Latif’s poetry through symbolic readings of the powerful love legends of Sindh and Punjab, such as Sohini-Mahiwal and Sasui-Punhoon. It explores the stories themselves, besides the unusual form of singing in which they are embodied, and ideas such as the use of the woman’s voice, cutting off one’s own head, and the six milestones on the path to liberation.

This book is accompanied by a three music CD set, featuring folk bhajans of Kabir and the Sindhi kaafis and waees of Shah Latif in the voices of folk singer Mooralala Marwada and waee singers Mitha Jat, Sumar Kada Jat and Jaan Mohammed. The text, translations and designs for this book are in a near final stage.

New Film and Artworks

‘The Journey Home’
Glimpses of the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra, 2012
Video Film, 31 min
Presented by Lokayan, Bikaner & the Kabir Project

This is a short film that captures the spirit of the Rajasthan Kabir Yatra, a week long travelling festival of 13 singers from bhakti, Sufi and the Baul tradition, which toured villages of Bikaner in Rajasthan. The Yatra was organized by the NGO Lokayan in collaboration with the Kabir Project in March 2012. Interspersing moments in the journey, conversations and songs in the night concerts, the film brings alive the powerful experience of a deeply immersive event on the road. This film was launched on YouTube in the Ajab Shahar channel, and already has many views.

Evocations of Shabd’
Artworks, 3 panels, 2ft x 4ft
Artists: Smriti Chanchani & Shabnam Virmani

The Museum of Sacred Art, Brussels approached the Kabir Project to create artworks on the theme of ‘nirgun bhakti’ (devotion to a formless deity). What took shape was three hanging panels blending photography & calligraphy entitled “Evocations of Shabd” and two animation Ajab Poems created by Smriti Chanchani & Shabnam Virmani. These were launched in New Delhi in March 2015, and are now slated for travel with the MOSA exhibition to Brussels.

Ideas for Educators

To bring alive the power of mystic poetry and music in the classroom, we have been interacting with students and teachers of schools and colleges in diverse ways – organizing live music concerts and interactions with folk singers, film screenings-discussions and workshops with students around the themes of cultural diversity and ecology.
With teachers and educators we have conducted a 4-day residential workshop called “Learning with Kabir” for 30-35 participants designed to give them a deep immersion in the poetry, politics, ideas and music of Kabir. This was conducted in Jan 2010 and May 2011.

We are supporting artist and educator Vishakha Chanchani to develop illustrated books which draw inspiration from the poetry of Kabir – more the spirit than the words. They would be written in a playful and poetic metre in Hindi & English creating evocative narratives around Kabirian themes and ideas, with a light reference to a Kabir couplet or a poem.

We are also working towards creating a vibrant online resource for educators interested in working with mystic poetry and music, where engaging and sensitive documentation of classroom experiments would be shared.


    Design, Visual Strategy, Art Direction:
    Smriti Chanchani
    Writing, Translations, Research, Curations:
    Vipul Rikhi
    Web Interface & Design Support: Medha Sutwala
    Video Editing & Project Assistance: Shruti Kulkarni
    Project Assistance: Anand Baskaran
    Hindi translations: Maitreyee Chakravarty
    Adminstration & Distribution: Psalm Paul
    Direction: Shabnam Virmani

    Vishakha Chanchani
    Gopal Singh Chouhan

    Ex Team Members

    Video Editors:
    Sharanya Gautam
    Aarthi Parthasarathy
    Radha Mahendru
    Piyush Kumar Kashyap
    Manjushree Abhinav

    Ideas for Educators:
    Namrata Ratnam
    Chintan Girish Modi

    Project Assistants:
    Namrata Kartik
    Nandini Nayar
    Mukesh Kulariya

Project Advisors

  • Linda Hess
  • Ashok Vajpeyi
  • Vidya Rao
  • Purushottam Aggrawal
  • Shubha Chaudhuri

Legal Advisors

  • Lawrence Liang
  • Jawahar Raja

Financial Support

  • Ford Foundation, New Delhi
  • Raza Foundation, New Delhi
  • Wipro-Applying Thought in Schools

Seed & Institutional Support

  • Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology

International Sales Support

  • Sarah Caldwell
  • Ajai Narendran
  • Singh Foundation

Project Team for the 1st Phase
(Films, Audio CD-books & Website)

Film Research, Camera & Direction

  • Shabnam Virmani

Film Editors

  • Shabnam Virmani
  • Rikhav Desai
  • Arati Parthasarathy
  • Vasanth D. Kummy
  • Paramesh K.
  • Waseem Shaikh
  • Rumah Rasaque

Research & Advisory Support

  • Tara Kini

Film Animation

  • Orijit Sen
  • M M Pradeep

Film Direction Support

  • Rumah Rasaque
  • Smriti Chanchani

Sound Recording & Mastering
(Films & Music CDs)

  • P M Satheesh
  • Shajith Koyeri
  • Amrit Pritam
  • Sreejesh K Nair
  • Fireflys Post-Sound Team, Mumbai

Additional Sound Recordings

  • Rhzude David, Bangalore
  • G M Chand, Karachi, Pakistan

Designers & Illustrators

  • Smriti Chanchani
  • Vishakha Chanchani
  • roy+arati design
  • Kena Design
  • Arvind Lodaya

Calligraphy for Films & Books

  • Dharmesh Jadeja

Poetry Translations

  • Linda Hess
  • Shabnam Virmani
  • Homayra Ziad
  • Vidya Rao

Editing (Poetry Books)

  • Shabnam Virmani

Hindi Translation (Poetry Books)

  • Divya Jain

Project Web Design Team

  • roy + arati design
  • Palash M
  • Dipti Sonawane
  • Ajai Narendran
  • Samuel Rajkumar

Seed Support

  • Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology
  • Wanaparthy Educational Trust