Sometimes, words fail to convey our deepest emotions and thoughts. Music wins where words fail, they say. It is even called the language of the soul, one that everyone can understand. And why not? Music transcends borders, cultures, and societies. It knows no race, religion or community. All it knows and spreads is love. And so, in trying to find love in music, we are united, we are one.
Music may not be only about uniting the world. For musicians, it may be about connecting with self or uniting with the divine. Hindustani Khayal and Sufi singer Smita Bellur perceives music as such. Ask her about this powerful connection, and she recites a couplet by the 15th-century mystic poet Kabir Das:
Akath kahani prem ki, kuch kahi na jaye
Goonge keri sarkara, baithe muskae
Inexpressible is the story of love
It cannot be revealed by words
Like the dumb eating sweet-meat
Who only smiles, the sweetness he cannot tell
In an interview with Soulveda, Bellur talks about her journey as a singer, how spirituality has shaped her as an individual, and how music unites people with love.
Your first public performance was at the age of 14. How has the artiste in you grown since then?
Being on the stage, performing, was always motivating for me. When people begin appreciating art, an artiste feels like giving more. I guess, I had an artiste in me right from the start. My father introduced me to Hindustani classical music and advised me that it was a long journey. “You can expect rich dividends, if you give it patience and perseverance,” he told me. And classical music usually gets better with age, as the artiste masters technique, aesthetics, and adds soul to it.
There is always something that inspires an artiste. Where does your inspiration come from?
As a child, the image of Mirabai with her ektara (one-string music instrument) was stuck in my mind. Later, it was the legendary classical vocalist Kishori Amonkar. The image of a singer was slowly setting in my mind. From Mirabai to Kishori to my own image, visualisation was on. I had no clue that it was a good practice, yet I was inadvertently following it. Although, it is not just visualisation. Love inspires me. Ragas inspire me. Nature, beauty, and music of the maestros inspire me.
“For me, Sufism is the experience of total absorption with the divine, whom one loves like a beloved. The saalik (seeker) starts to see divine light in every creation. Being at peace with fellow creatures becomes a default action.”
“I am amazed how one can go about living life with so much negativity blocking their pores that should have been allowing the oxygen of inspiration, ideas/creativity to seep in like a breath of fresh air.”