Sohan Lohaka, with a flowing white beard and hair, dirty white dhoti and kurta and a signature red Rajasthani turban, is perhaps the oldest surviving singer in the world. He is 106 and is at present swaying the Krishna devotees for hours, signing Shayam-bhajans at the Shyam Mandir in Varanasi.
Lohaka, who claims to have born in 1903 at a village near Jaipur in Rajasthan, is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the mandir with a two-day special bhajan programme that ended on Monday.
Although he went to school for about a year just to learn Hindi alphabets and numbers, Lohaka authored 14 books of 2,500-plus shyam-bhajans so far. A sculptor-cum-blacksmith by profession, he took to full-time shyam-bhajan after his wife passed away six decades ago.
Now, he uses his literate great grand children to pen the songs he composes, which he claims to have sold to singers in Mumbai and other places.
Lohaka says, “since my eyes are still glowing, I’m not Surdas (blind Krishna devotee). I am Krishna’s Sudama (a childhood friend of Krishna), who wants to breathe his last singing for Shyam.”
He claims, “And this I’ve been doing since I was a ten-year-old, when a sadhu (holy man) gifted a Bhagvad Geeta which I mastered reading daily with the help of literates in my village.”
The singer, who claims to have sung before Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi before Independence, besides performing for free all over the country, says he has also performed at various temples in Nepal, including Indra Lok in Kathmandu.
He said, “I’ve met Nehru, Gandhi and even Indira Gandhi when she was too small, but haven’t asked for help. I want only to give shyam-bhakti (devotion to Krishna) to society and demand nothing from anyone.”