KABIR (f1. 15th century) was an extraordinary oral poet whose works have been sung and recited by millions throughout North India for half a millennium. He was perhaps illiterate (‘I don’t touch ink or paper, this hand never grasped a pen’), and he preached an abrasive, sometimes shocking, always uncompromising message exhorting in favour of an intense, direct, personal confrontation with truth.
Linda Hess points our in her introduction that ‘Kabir pounds away with questions, prods with riddles, stirs with challenges, shocks with insults, disorients with verbal feints… His poems bristle with questions, assaults, paradoxes, and enigmas. He confronts, irritates, and fascinates, always trying to set off a spark of consciousness in people who are sinking in the river of time, the ocean of delusion.’ The attentive reader cannot help being challenged by each leap and turn of this remarkable mind.
Thousands of poems are popularly attributes to Kabir, but only a few written collections have survived over the centuries. The Bijak is one of the most important anthologies, being the sacred book of the Kabir Panth and the main representative of the Eastern tradition of Kabir’s verses. Shukhdev Singh and Linda Hess have accomplished a translation of real grace and remarkable accuracy. The introduction and notes explore Kabir’s work, place it in its initial context, and explore its meaning for modern time.
The devotional Poems of Miraba offers the reader a saber English translation of two hundred of her Padas, based on the interpretative work of Indian scholars that has appeared during the last few decades. Three introductory essays Deal with her life, her place in the Bhakrti movement and the characteristics of her poetry. Terminal notes explain the mytholothological references to the non-Hindu reader, indicate some linguistic difficulties and record minor deviations from the fifteenth edition of Parashuram Chaturvedi’s Mirambai ki Padavali, the basic text used
Justin E. Abbott and Nit. Godbole Here is an English translation of Mahipati’s NIarathi poem Bhakta Vijava which records the legends of Indian medieval saints irrespective of their difference in caste, eomniunifl. Creed, language and place of origin. Herein we have the record of different saints—Jayadeva, jananadeva, Nämadeva, Ramananda. Tulsidasa, Kabir. Suradisa, Narsimehtã and Guru Nãnakdeva. Mitch light is thrown on Eknath, TukArania and Ramadäsa.
COUPLETS FROM KABIR G.N. Dos The fifteenth century saint-poet Kabir’s extempore outpourings (if songs and couplets numbering thousands have been hailed widely for their deep spiritual favors and poetic quality. They are widely read with rapture and regard by old and young alike in India.
Some of his poems were translated into English by Tagore in 1915 and later by a couple of others. These have been popular among the English-speaking people at home and abroad. Rabir’s couplets which are considered as rich gems for their spiritual message and worldly wisdom have not been rendered into English so far. Here is rhymed English verse translation of three hundred of them from a wide cross-section of the multifaced genius’ utterances. Under each verse has been given a few lines in prose to help the reader grasp the underlying import of the message of the saint-poet.
Many owners share this body, says Kabir. And many collaborators share credit for the appearance of this book. First to acknowledge is my cotranslator, Shukdev Singh, who guided me inch by inch through the tangle and obscurity of Kabir’s medieval Hindi. Then the leaders and monks of Kabir Chaura Temple in Varanasi, especially Mahant Amrit Das, administrative head Ganga Sharan Das Shastri, and Sant Vivek Das. They published an early selection of translations, helped interpret many passages, and chanted Kabir’s works. Dr. Yugeshvar of Kashi Vidyapith and Dada Sitaram gave valuable commentaries on poems. Dr. Hazariprasad Dvivedi shared his vast knowledge of Kabir and the tradition. Thakur Jaydev Singh shed light on upside-down language. Dr. Veer Bhadra Mishra gave friendship and assistance more than can be measured.
Support from the American Institute of Indian Studies enabled me to work in India. Karine Schomer and Michael Nagler of Berkeley guided me carefully through various stages of work. Charlotte Vaudeville was most generous in her interest and hospitality. Elaine Pagels, Gail Sher, and Mary Watson gave excellent comments on the manuscript. Jack Hawley has been in the first rank of encouragers. Carolyti and Martin Karcher have supported me in innumerable and indescribable ways. Karl Ray has been a shaping presence, visible and invisible, from beginning to end.
Bonnie Crown saw the book through long stages of revision and found a superb publisher. Jack Shoemaker, Tom Christensen, and the North Point staff have warmed my heart, caught my mistakes, and adhered impressively to schedule. Frances Peavey transformed me so that the book could come out. Kazuaki Tanahashi’s caring has entered every particle of this work, “as water enters water.” Zentatsu Baker-roshi of San Francisco Zen Center made me feel for the first time that openheartedness (Kabir’s “honesty”) was possible; he and Reb Anderson continue to open my ears to Kabir and others.
Special thanks to my parents, Rudy and Jerry Hess, who gave me the precious jewel of a human birth. Also to George and MarIo Gross; he was my first great teacher, both are my lifelong friends.
Back in India, thanks to the villagers of Chittupur, who sang upside-down songs with such enthusiasm? Thanks to Gayabanandji, Who vanished?
Kabir’s poems have been sung and recited throughout North India— by learned pandits and illiterate villagers, by wandering ascetics and chssicai musicians—for 500 years. He is famed for his rough and powerful voice, his uncompromising challenge to individuals to shake their delusions, their stiff orthodoxies and pretentious pieties, and find out the truth for themselves. Several religious sects have made portant collections of his works. The Bijak, translated here, is the scared book of the Kabir Panth, or sect devoted to Kabir.
No one knows exactly when the Kabir Panth was formed. One scholar has estimated that it originated in northeastern India between 1600 and 1650 (a century or two after the death of Kabir), but this is based on rather rough guesswork.’ Today the Panth is a large and distinctly organized body, with many branches and a number of subsects under different leadership, some bearing friendly relations to each other, some tending to be rivals. With one major exception, all treat B1jak as their most sacred scripture.2
Because of the visibility of the Panth, the Kabir collection best known to westerners in the early twentieth century was the Bijak. Some also knew of Kabir through the Guru Granth, sacred book of the Sikhs, which contains several hundred songs and couplets attributed to Kabir.3 In the 1 920s Professor Shyamsundar Das, head of the Hindi Department at Banaras Hindu University, discovered two manuscripts which he claimed had been written in the very lifetime of Kabir: one bore a date equivalent to A.D. 1504. These writings had been compiled by another sect, the Dadu Panth, in what is now the state of Rajasthan. Das published the collection, under the title Kabir Granthãvaii, in 1928. His influence was such that the Granthãvail soon became the standard collection of Kabir, especially in the universities. Although the 1504 colophon was eventually proved false, the Granthävallis still the most widely used text in academic circles.
After the Granthã vail’s publication, the Bijak fell into neglect and even disrepute. Some scholars claimed that it was marred by sectarian bias or that it was not very old. It had appeared only in uncritical editions by Kabir Panthis, with several confusing recensions and countless variations. The first attempt at a critical edition was prepared by Shukdev Singh of Banaras Hindu University and published in I 972.s
In 1976 Dr. Singh and 1 began collaborating on the present translation, based on his edition. For eighteen months we studied the text word by word, puzzled over many difficulties, and prepared the first draft of the translations. After returning to the United States I added information gleaned from dictionaries and commentaries, put the translations into final form, and prepared the introduction and notes. In studying the Biak I have come to believe that its neglect by modem scholars has been undeserved, and that this nearly independent “eastern tradition” (as Charlotte Vaudeville has designated it) is as important in evaluating the personality and poetry of Kabir as the “western tradition” represented by the Rajasthan and Sikh collections.6 Vaudeville’s extensive translations, published in French and English over the last twenty-five years, have strongly emphasized the western tradition.7 Ahmad Shah’s 1917 translation of the Bijak is stiff and far from the original style of Kabir, and lacks notes on dubious points of translation.8 Dr. Singh and I eventually decided that a selection of about half the text of the Bijak with introduction and notes would be appropriate for a broad group of readers in the West, including both specialists and non specialists. I have tried to select those poems which are most powerful and to avoid those which are purely repetitious or which, even after years of study, remain stubbornly opaque.
Kabir’s original audience was composed entirely of listeners. His present audience is composed largely of readers. I have used “reader” and “listener” interchangeably in talking of audience response; and I have freely alternated “song,”“poem,” and pada in referring to Kabir’s compositions. Although a large section of the introduction is devoted to the experience created by Kabir’s verses, I am aware that the literary bias of both myself and my readers attenuates the impact and inevitably distorts our understanding.
Of the many terms Kabir uses to address his audience, the most common is sam, which may mean ascetic, renounciant, saint, or simply religious person. The Sanskrit root sat means “truth,” so an appropriate rendering of sant could be “seeker of truth.” I have translated the word as “seeker” or “saint,” depending on which fits better into the rhythm of the translation. Kabir creates a sense of pervasive irony by constantly addressing us as sants, implying that we are devoted to or already in possession of the truth, even while assailing us for our myriad deceptions and delusions.
All versions of the Bijak include three main sections called Ramaini, Sabda, and Sãkhi, plus a fourth section containing a number of miscellaneous folk-song forms.9 Most of the Kabir material has been popularized through the song-form known as sabda or pada, and
through the aphoristic sãkhi that serves throughout North India as a vehicle for popular wisdom. These two forms, universally linked with Kabir, have been emphasized in our translation. We have also included a group of ramainis, which appear both in the Bijak and in the Rajasthan tradition. The miscellaneous folk forms appear in none of the major collections except the Bijak and have not been included in this selection.’°
Readers interested in more detailed information on textual matters and questions of authenticity may consult my “Searching for Kabir: The Textual Tradition”;’1 my “Three Kabir Collections: A Comparative Study”;’2 Charlotte Vaudeville’s Kabir;’3 and several Hindi critics.14
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