Sanora was the only daughter of Radhabjai, a much respected mystic minstrel, who roamed around with his followers in the villages and mofussil towns in Bengal, singing songs in praise of God. The girl was an exceptional singer who had great devotion in her heart for the Blue God, Krishna, whose tales her family of wandering minstrels had sung for more than a hundred years. When she sang, the listeners were spellbound by the magical beauty of her voice.
There was only one big problem though – Sanora was a girl and according to family traditions, only the male members could sing in public. This story is almost 50 years ago, in the late 1960s, when things were different from the present-day India. So, the young girl was allowed to only sing for her family and people in her little village, who were also like family to them.
One day, Sanora accompanied her neighbours to a nearby town to watch the show of a famous wandering theatre company, which went from town to town with its troupe of performers. Her own family members did not go as they looked down upon such frivolous entertainment. There, during the intermission, a few people in the audience were encouraged to showcase their talent. Urged by her neighbours, she sang, and mesmerised the crowd.
The theatre company owner was so impressed by the girl that he went to meet Radhabjai, to allow Sanora to join his troupe. Radhabjai of course refused – he believed that his art was sacred, singing had to be in praise of God, not for anything else. He was a proud torchbearer of the traditional mystic minstrels who believed that their songs bridged the divide between man and God.
Circumstances however made Radhabjai relent a few years later. There were two consecutive years of severe famine in Bengal. Most villagers were going through tough times, they did not have enough for themselves, leave alone give money to wandering minstrels. Radhabjai’s family was almost on the brink of starvation when the theatre company owner approached him again to let his daughter sing for a big show in Calcutta. He felt he was selling his soul when he gave his daughter permission to leave home and perform in the city, but the money kept the kitchen fires burning and fed his large family.
Sanora’s performance at the show was so well received that she was offered a contract to sing with All India Radio. She acquired great popularity, but remained estranged from her father. Not a day passed that Radhabjai did not feel guilty for letting his daughter sing in public, songs that he believed tainted his sacred art and that of his forefathers. He never listened to the radio, nor did he allow one to be brought inside his home.
Then one day, while buying some essentials from the village market, he heard a familiar voice wafting out from the nearby barber’s shop. It was his daughter’s voice coming from the radio, singing a song about lost love.
Most people of pure heart are always able to hear messages from the divine with clarity. This happened with Radhabjai also. As Sanora’s mellifluous voice touched his soul, he knew that God wanted him to understand that all action performed from the heart is an offering to Him – one does not have to sing spiritual songs to maintain purity of the art.
The old man wept with joy as he realised his daughter’s singing was no less sacred than his. Thanking God for making him understand this great truth, he went home a happy and guilt-free man.