Kabir Project: Ulat Bansi Lab

Professional Diploma Art & Design Programme
Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology

January-February, 2009


A particularly intriguing category of Kabir’s poems is the type known as Ulat Bansi, poems in “upside down language”. They intrigue because they are absurd, paradoxical, crazy, impenetrable, and yet they purport to be meaningful. Even in assuming that there is a hidden meaning to be dug out, you may be playing the fool: who is to say you aren’t describing a naked emperors clothes? (Hess, 1977, p.135) 

In this unique component of the Kabir Lab facilitated by Ayisha Abraham, Smriti Mehra and me, twelve Professional Diploma students from various design disciplines were introduced to a genre of Kabir’s poetry called the Ulat Bansi. Through reading, recitation and discussion, the participants were challenged to respond to these poems, migrating between visual, acoustic and performative media. The upside down verses of Kabir served as a launch pad to try to understand the rhythm and purpose of such ‘nonsense verse’ and artistic practice. They then developed individual project proposals that responded to this concept of Ulat Bansi through small-scale tactile objects, books and experiences. Participants worked individually and collaboratively, engaging in all aspects of the production process.

The Ulat Bansi Lab ran for eight weeks, alongside various other Kabir projects. In total, over seventy students explored, responded and interpreted the various ideas, themes and poems of this 15th century Indian mystic poet. The outcomes from these projects were exhibited at the Kabir Festival in Bangalore, 23rd February to 1st March, 2009.

Visit the Kabir Project website.


Video stills of Ulat performances

Ulat Bansi poem

Ulat Bansi project space

Group crit session

Budgeting for the exhibition

Ulat signs - Sanya Rai Gupta

Hutner and the Hunted, zoetrope - Somesh, Upasana and Pratapaditya

Hutner and the Hunted, zoetrope - Somesh, Upasana and Pratapaditya

Hutner and the Hunted, zoetrope - Somesh, Upasana and Pratapaditya

Nonsense flip book - Upasana Mehnidiratta

Flippo - Somesh Kumar

U-LAT soundscapes - Bharath Haridas

Exhibits at The Kabir Festival, Sofia, Bangalore

MisMatched, matchboxes - Disha Roy, Tisha Deb, Varun Dhanda

MisMatched, matchboxes - Disha Roy, Tisha Deb, Varun Dhanda

Exhibits at The Kabir Festival, Sofia, Bangalore

Exhibits at The Kabir Festival, Sofia, Bangalore

Exhibits at The Kabir Festival, Sofia, Bangalore

Students: Anuranjini Singh, Bharath Haridas, Disha Roy, Karno Guhathakurta, Mimosa Sahay, Namrata Kumar, Pratapaditya N Deb, Somesh Kumar, Sanya Rai Gupta, Tisha Deb Pillai, Upasana Mehndiratta, Varun Dhanda


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