Vaishnav Jan To travels the world in honour of Mahatma Gandhi

Dyana Dafova about her involvement in the international project
Photo: archive

“Good people are those who feel the pain of others, who help those who live in poverty, who do not let pride take over their minds… Their tongues shall tell no lies… In their minds all religions exist side by side…

Thus go the lyrics, in the Bulgarian language, of Vaishnav Jan To – the hymn written by 15th century poet Narsinh Mehta. In this instance “good people” is a loose translation of Vaishnavas – people devoted to Vishnu, the supreme deity in Hinduism.

Vaishnav Jan To was Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajan (prayer song) and was invariably among the prayers he sang before starting the day. In 2019 the world will mark the 150th birth anniversary of the father of the Indian nation, though the celebrations have already begun, including a global project connected with Vaishnav Jan To as an embodiment of the ideas and lifework of Mahatma Gandhi.

“The project was launched by the government of India and I was invited to take part on behalf of Bulgaria,” says celebrated singer Dyana Dafova. “The project involves famous names from all over the world performing the prayer song Mahatma Gandhi loved above all others. It was written in the Gujarati language and that was, perhaps, my biggest challenge. A Bulgarian arrangement had to be made that would be close to the original, but with Bulgarian motifs. I think we did a very good job of inserting the Bulgarian instrument “kaval”, played by Nedyalko Nedyalkov. The arrangement is by Danail Draganov – I have worked with him for over 20 years - the video was directed by Krasimir Iliev. The video features emblematic sites in Bulgaria, we were given the footage by the Ministry of Tourism – the old part of Plovdiv with its Revival-age houses and its ancient amphitheater, Rila Monastery, the “Eyes of God” rock phenomenon etc. I think it turned out well in terms of performance as well as visual interpretation of the song. It has now been uploaded to a special platform, created for the anniversary as part of the website of the Indian government on different social networks. A few days ago I got an emotional letter in which India’s Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj thanked me for my involvement in this project which is helping create a bond among different cultures (the direction I have been working in for years), but also because the song and the project are a way to continue the lifework of Mahatma Gandhi – a symbol of the message of peace and nonviolence in the world. To quote the letter – my performance was heard in different countries and was approved by listeners in India and the world community.”

Just one month after work began on Vaishnav Jan To Dyana presented the video to Purification – one of her original songs:

“It was an interesting coincidence – the invitation by the Indian government came at a time when I was working on my global project “One world in harmony” which features “Purification”. The message I endeavour to convey with my music and the show of the same name is a message of unity, harmony, peace, tolerance, and love among people. The music has Indian motifs, the lyrics are in English, Sanskrit, there are certain phrases in the Pali language. It too is an international project. I am author and producer of the whole project, the lyrics are by an English poet. We all pooled our efforts so as to demonstrate the beauty of Indian culture with elements of European tradition. The video clips used are of spectacular temples and places in India – high quality footage shot by a leading film company from USA. I presented the project in Sofia and soon after, the Indian ambassador to Bulgaria Mrs. Pooja Kapur invited me to perform Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite song. The video to Vaishnav Jan To is subtitled in Bulgarian because the Indian embassy in this country is planning to tour the country in connection with the anniversary celebrations, and during this tour my video will be shown. Throughout 2019 there will be different events honouring Mahatma Gandhi. He believed that if more people loved one another the world would be a much better place. I believe that deep in our hearts we all know that is true, but it is difficult to apply in practice. But we all need to make a conscious effort, whatever our nationality or religion.”

English: Milena Daynova

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