India is a unique country with an unbroken saintly tradition. It can well pride itself on an illustrious galaxy of the gifted mystics, whose ocean of mystic poetry, profound humanism and mellifluous lyricism, has lent itself to sustain that innate tradition of spiritual nectar and eternal truth. The philosophic ponderings of these bards laid the foundation of the Indian school of thought, which has inspired, elevated and integrated millions of Indians.
In this anthology of representative hymns of 43 singer-saints, Rajinder Singh Verma has translated the verses of great thinkers, who pioneered the bhakti movement, Sufism and various other cults in regional languages. But these custodians of inner values have a timeless, universal appeal, as the couplets and lyrics of Guru Nanak, Tulsidas, Kabir, Chaitanya, Haridas, Jaidev, Mira, Surdas, Thyagaraja, Bulleh Shah and Farid continue to the flavour of Indian thinking.
Widely acclaimed for his highly artistic and impressive transcreations, Rajinder Singh Verma finds a distinct mention in the encyclopedia of Indian literature. An academician, who taught English literature in Panjab University, Verma's verses and critique, brought him national recognition with a Senior Fellowship Emeritus. More so, Because his honest and effective translations sensitively rendered and recreated the nuances of regional languages, as reflected in his works ranging from Pick of Mir, Contemporary Urdu Verses, A Hail of Stones, Jeelani Banu's Urdu novel, Barish-e-Sung to Asia Diyan Kahaniyan.
We Indians reserve our highest regards and deepest devotion not for kings and rulers but for seers and saints. The reasons are not far to seek. Their songs and sayings have served as the common man's philosopher, friend and guide through the ages. They have filled their souls with spiritual nectar, their minds with eternal truths and their hearts with tenderness and compassion. They have inspired, elevated and integrated millions of Indians.
This book is divided into three parts: the thesis, an anthology of selected hymns of 43 foremost saints of India, and their brief biographical sketches.
In 'A study' -A discussion of salient features of Hindu mysticism and devotional poetry-I have attempted a mosaic of ideas, some well-known, some less so. The history and significance of the singer saints has been analysed and interpreted in numerous scholarly studies. My study borrows freely from them. The introductory matter, however, has been reduced to a minimum, only giving such information as is necessary to enable the readers to understand the hymns and the illusions to them.
The selection of each saint poet is preceded by a life- sketch of the bard. The life story of each of these saints, as recorded by tradition, and presented here briefly, is a piece of poetry as inspiring and significant as the poems they have left behind.
. The book concludes with an anthology of representative hymns of these 43 saints. Composed in regional languages of India, the songs are lyrical expressions of passionate love for God. They mirror the urge to bypass tradition and ritual and to express kinship with all living things in moving terms. Personal, passionate and forcefully monotheistic, these hymns possess an appeal which is timeless and universal. Rich in feeling and rapturous in expression, these songs have a high literary merit, deep devotional fervour, dedicated reformist zeal and lofty moral teachings.
In our strife-tom world, the message of saints has a special relevance. Their noble teachings have a great bearing and significance today, as ever. The spiritual salvation helps us rise above external rituals, considerations of caste, creed, communal hatred and, more than anything else, religious fanaticism. Mystical poetry has a broad Significance. It brings the message of hope to mankind in general.
Out of an immense number of hymns, I have tried to select those which are representative of the poet, make good poetry, are thematically typical of bhakti tradition and contain most striking thoughts. Yielding to the spirit of the hymns, I have let the songs choose me, letting them speak to my taste, translating whatever fascinated me over the last three decades.
All the texts in this volume have been newly translated. While rendering these songs into English, I have tried to find a medium in which the translation could become a fairly accurate representation of the original. I shall be gratified if my translations serve to call attention to the original songs and are some day replaced by worthier renderings. I do hope that the readers will receive the book with indulgence and. regard it as an act of homage to the great seer-poets. Perhaps it will stimulate other readers to deepen their interest in bhakti poetry.
I am grateful to the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development for blessing me in this project by conferring on me Senior Emeritus Fellowship. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute of deep gratitude to Dr. S.K. Mahapatra, Union Secretary of Culture and S. Man Mohan Singh, Joint Secretary of Culture, who helped and encouraged me to accomplish this task.
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