When the first edition of Sur Jahan, then known as Sufi Sutra, was held in Kolkata in 2011, only a few could foresee that it would go on to become one of the leading international folk music festivals of India, and that, too, a non-ticketed one…...and therefore, when a premium global music magazine like Songlines (www.songlines.co.uk) featured Sur Jahan in 2018 and put it on record that “this resolutely non-commercial festival focuses on exchange and the forging of new musical friendships,” it was a moment of déjà vu for those who saw it coming way back in 2011!
The real journey, though, had begun seven years before the idea of Sufi Sutra germinated. The social enterprise behind the festival, banglanatak dot com, had started its work with Bauls and Fakirs (often referred to as “Sufis of the East”) in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal in 2004. The experience of exploring the world of these wandering balladeers, who sing songs of love, peace and equality, brought the realization that it was high time that such genres of oriental folk music were showcased at the international level. The name, Sufi Sutra, too, had its genesis in the earthy melodies of these eternally pro-peace and pro-love Baul-Fakiri songs… and they have an amazing grace and richness in philosophical content.
Over time, as various folk music genres from all around the world started getting featured at the festival, it was renamed as Sur Jahan (literally Music World) in 2017. However, like its earlier avatar, Sur Jahan remains all about the meeting of minds — exploration of diverse cultures, thinking and ways of life, finding common ground for a better understanding of the world, and forging lasting bonds of love, peace and friendship. A specialty of Sur Jahan is its daytime workshops, which engage the visiting foreign artists and young, local singers and musicians to explore, appreciate, and share myriad sounds melodies…
Another unique feature of this festival is an array of colorful, creative local folk arts and crafts on display alongside the main event. It doubles up as a networking front for the rural artists who are there with their ware, and interact with art aficionados, connoisseurs and customers, including foreigners.
In the last seven years, Sur Jahan has expanded exponentially in size, range and reach. It has imbibed the mood of a music-arts-artists’ carnival! Even in Goa, where the festival’s journey began in 2015, Sur Jahan today has cut up a niche for itself among music lovers. But, above all, this celebration of music for love and peace is getting increasingly noticed, appreciated and adored, both at home and abroad!
Videos: Sur Jahan - Down the Years: