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In praise of Ambedkar and the Buddha

The exponents of protest pop in Punjab sing songs based on the teachings of the Buddha and Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, preaching equality, brotherhood and peace in Hindi, English and Marathi.

Updated: Oct 23, 2016 09:29 IST
Shruti Supriya
Navi Mumbai-based rock band Dhamma Wings that sings for the cause of equality and against carteism.
Navi Mumbai-based rock band Dhamma Wings that sings for the cause of equality and against carteism.(Rishikesh Choudhary / HT)

Jay Bhim se, jay Bhim se / Meri duniya jay Bhim se
Jay Bhim se, jay Bhim se / Meri khushiya jay Bhim se

Koi nahi tha mere liye / Unhone apna jeevan tyag diya

Aandhi tufano se ladte rahe / Mujhe apne pairo pe khada kiya

(Long live Bhim [Rao Ambedkar], long live Bhim / He is my whole world

Long live Bhim, long live Bhim / He is my happiness

When there was no one for me / He sacrificed his life

He battled every storm / To help me stand on my feet)

That’s from the song, ‘Jay Bhim se’, the most popular number by Navi Mumbai-based Dalit rock band Dhamma Wings. (The Pali word ‘dhamma’ means to imbibe a quality -- equality, in this case).

“We don’t want to rewrite the page. We want a fresh page,” says lead singer Kabeer Shakya, 28. “We want to connect with the younger generation because youngsters are more open to change.”

The six-year-old band has four other members -- Srijit Banerjee (keyboards, 27), Rahul Kamble (bass guitar, 32), Rohan Zodge (rhythm guitar, 24) and Swapnil More (drums, 27) -- all of whom make a living teaching music.

They sing songs based on the teachings of the Buddha and Dalit icon BR Ambedkar, preaching equality, brotherhood and peace in Hindi, English and Marathi.

“Our mission is to end caste discrimination, and highlight other social issues such as unemployment and drought along the way,” says More. “We use songs because music delivers a message faster.”

The band has performed in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and in areas such as rural Aurangabad and Yavatmal, where casteism is more prominent.

They also have good online presence, with thousands of followers across YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. ‘Jay Bhim se’ has had more than 50,000 views on YouTube.

The idea of starting a band struck Kabeer in 2010. Inspired by the philosophy of the Buddha, he was living as a monk in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, just after graduation. At the end of his three-month experiment, he decided to dedicate at least part of his time to spreading the Buddha’s teachings.

On his return to Navi Mumbai, he began performing solo at events. At the same time, he also started an IT services company with four partners. Nine months on, Kabeer realised music was his true calling and quit the company. He met More while performing at a tribute to Ambedkar. More introduced him to the others and the band was born.

“It’s changed my life completely. I earn about as much as I used to from my IT company, but this gives me so much more satisfaction,” says Kabeer. “I feel like I’m contributing to society.”

Even if youngsters start to think about change, the effort will have paid off, he adds. “Recently, we performed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai and over 200 students cheered for us all through,” Kabeer says. “Our music is making a difference.”