The fifteenth century saint-poet Kabir's extempore outpourings of songs and couplets numbering thousands have been hailed widely for their deep spiritual fervour 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.
Kabir's couplets which are considered as rich gems for their spiritual message and wordly 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 have been given a few lines in prose to help the reader grasp the underlying import of the message of the saint-poet.
About the Author:
Born in 1913 in the District of Cuttack in Orissa, the author, G.N. Das, retired from the Indian Administrative Service in the year 1972.
He was awarded a UNO fellowship in Social Welfare Administration for a year's course of theoretical study in the University College of the South West, Exeter, Englnad combined with practical studies in countries like the U.K., Ceylon, North Borneo and Singapore in the year 1953-54.
Another retirement he produced a book entitled, kabir on the biography and philosophy of the saint-poet in the year 1986 in Oriya language.
In the following year he produced averse translation on Oriya of one hundred selected poems of the saint-poet and one hundred of his couplets entitled Kabir Satah.
In 1988 he brought out a study of the moral principles enshrined in Sant Tulasi Das 'Shri Rama Charin Manasa in Oriya.
I have been asked to write a foreword to the series of Kabir’s Dohe rendered into English by Mr. Gananath Das.
Kabir had no schooling—formal or informal but he was a born saint-poet. He transcended the bounds of religion, rose to greatest heights is his spiritual thoughts and broke into spontaneous lyrics and bhajans. Kabir’s apparently simple dohe contain the essence of the great of philosophical ideas. The level of divinity in him is clearly reflected in his dohe and bhajans. Both of these abound in narration of elevating experiences of his life and illustrate his anxiety for generation of devotion for God in the common man. Kabir’s mortal body, as the popular belief goes, was claimed both by the Hindus and the Muslims for performance of the last rites but the same vanished and a beautiful flower full bloom was found at the site.
The translator often fails to convey the true meaning of the original writing. It is particularly so when the theme is based upon divine experience or deep religious sentiments. Mr. Das has done a neat rendering of the dohe. This has perhaps been possible as he has got a clear insight into the corridors of divinity and is possessed of sufficient command over the English language.
Kabir’s dohe have a direct appeal to the heart. Familiar and common place illustrations and references bring about an immediate impact on the reader. In today’s world of fallen standards of life sans religion, Kabir’s dohe in English medium would reach a larger spectrum of readers and help in generation of an adequate metabolic force.
I hope the series will receive universal appreciation and
provide encouragement to Mr. Das to devote his full attention
in retired life to this neglected wing of life today.
Kabir, the famous 15th Century Bhakti-poet from Uttar
Pradesh. is said to have composed a large number of bhajanas and dohas, which subsequently became famous all over India. Many of these have been translated into different Indian languages, including English. Particularly the bhajanas are available in many translated versions, But not so dohãs. There fore Shri Das’s attempts to translate the dohãs into English for the benefit of a wider public is a very welcome act. Shri Das, it may be pointed out, is eminently fit for the job both by taste and scholarship. He has translated Kabir’s bhajanas and dohãs into Oriya, and also written a fine, scholarly book on Kabir in the same language. It is only a pleasure to record that Shri Das has broadened his activities with love and ability.
The dohãs are pithy poetic statements and they illustrate the poet’s personality and attitudes as nothing else can. Kabir’s dohas have particularly a multi-faceted structure. They have wit and intelligence, and a tendency to project multiple meanings through apt use of imagery. But what is most remarkable is, the dohãs are full of worldly wisdom which steadily elevates into a philosophic understanding of life. The dohas please and provoke
and always aim at a benign understanding of life and life’s problems.
In fact the poet’s primary concern is with the individual who should know how correctly and hence how peacefully he may live in the society. What man needs to cultivate to live in harmony with his fellow-beings in the society, are such commonsense virtues which are always around us and which are often forgotten in action. These are forgiveness, humility, gentleness, patience as well as love and compassion for others and a habit
to listen to prudent and wise advice. Misdeeds are our enemies, the poet proclaims again and again. One is prone to fall into quagmire of selfishness, lustfulness and laziness, and man’s obesity to move into dark areas of conduct is more than his desire to move out of it. Liberality of mind and heart as well as liberalities in out look are often talked of, but little practiced,
though, the poet points out, they provide important social parameters of living. The pull on man is from adverse direction upward and downward and as is natural the downward pull is stronger than the upward pull. It not only requires strength but also will strong concentrated will to move upward to freedom of light and air. The poet presents it graphically in the symbolic account of saint chaste woman and warrior walking on hard unbeaten track always in the danger of missing their track and getting completely undone.
Thus correct living is synonymous with good action, good speech as well as good habits. One cannot live even in routine matters as he likes and then claim that he is living correctly. Day to day routine matters are as much important as an understanding of or approach to life because while considering the totality of living the poet maintains the smaller less serious occupations are as much relevant as higher more serious objectives. Thus he points out what to eat and how much to eat meat eating is bad he says irrespective of whether it is fowl beef to god to give him just that amount of food as he needs for his family guests and himself and no more. In fact he is angry about killing animals. It should not be done he declares and asks the priest sarcastically why can’t he himself chop off his own head instead of the animal’s so that he himself can go to heaven in the place of the latter. There are other references too such as his dislike for beginning money or asking for favor.
These are habits but they refine the mind and promote cheerfulness and happiness. But cheerful man is rare and happy man is most rare the poet points out because both cheerfulness and happiness are projections of mind which depend upon how best the mind has been controlled and motivated and to what extent it has been able to contemplate and equanimity on matters of life and death. In the dohas the awareness of death is strong and it surfaces again and again. All of us are in the clutches of death the poet says and anybody can be nipped off in the bud. It is a matter of time when one goes but go one must.
But death is not end the poet does not accept it as the last word. There is a possibility that one may die that is annihilate himself but only to take a newer and richer shape. In a doha strongly reminiscent of Donne the British metaphysical poet the poet points out this paradox.
This is a matter of devotion to what extent one can motivate his mind towards that end. But once achieved this will provide the strongest counter against death. Devotion is synonymous with love - love of the lord and in its finality it is annihilation -annihilation of self. The poet expresses his devotion to the lord in unmistakable terms.
Sant Kabir has been acclaimed as the most outstanding of the saint-poets of Bhakti cult (devotion) and mysticism of 15th Century India. He was born at Varanasi (Banaras) in the year 1389 just six hundred years ago from now.
According to a legend a new born fair child was noticed afloat a giant lotus leaf in the Lahara Tala lake on the outskirts of Varãnasi by a Muslim couple, Niru and Nimma by name. They were childless and being attracted by the fair, playful child they considered the foundling as God’s gift, and picked it up and reared it as their foster-child.
This child grew up to be the celebrated saint Kabir and was acclaimed as such throughout the world for the large number of his uttering of Dohãs (couplets) and bhajanas (devotional songs) of great spiritual fervor and poetic quality.
Young Kabir spurned the idea of having formal education. He was convinced that all that one needed to learn was the letters that composed ‘Rama’, the name of the deity he adored and worshipped. There was no need to learn the entire alphabet, much less the books written in it. He declared he would not touch paper and ink. Thus he remained illiterate.
He gained his deep insight and wisdom from the book of life and extensive contact with saints and seers of various faiths over a number of years. Varãnasi being an important seat of spiritual practices attracted leaders of various faiths. Thus Hindus flocked in great numbers there and the members of its various sects—viz. Vaisnavas, Saivas, Saktas, Ganapatyas, Yogis, Naiha-panthis, Tantrikas, etc. So did the followers of Sufism, Buddhism, Jainism and other religions. Saints and seers in large number visited Varanasi continuously. Some of them made Varanasi their headquarters, establishing their monasteries, mosques, or temples dedicated to their respective Gods. Kabir had the benefit of long association and communion with them, association that enriched his innate spiritual faculties.
Kbir, according to a legend, was born of a Brahmin widow who abandoned her new born child on the Lahara Tala lake. Growing up in the foster parents’ home he imbibed knowledge of Islamic faith and ethnics. In his youth he was attracted by the liberal outlook of the famous spiritual leader. Ramananda who had set up a monastery on the Ganges and drew persons from different sects for spiritual guidance. Kabir was fortunate to have him as his preceptor and was able to enrich his spiritual faculty by his able and generous guidance.
It is said that kabir was influenced in this respect by the belief of the Vaisnava cult of the Hindu faith and also the Sufi cult of the Islamic faith in both of which devotion to the Lord is suffused with love for him. to that extent Kabir is seen to have deviated form the pure Bhakti cult of his preceptor Ramananda.
He succeeded, to a great extent, in this effort at allaying the misunderstanding between the two communities by focusing their attention on the fundamental principles enunciated by both the faiths, viz, love and devotion to the Lord, love of fellowmen, compassion for all beings, and the moral principles of good and noble living which are identical in both cases.
Soon Kabir started attracting a crowd of admirers and followers by his songs and couplets which he composed and recited extempore to the accompaniment of his musical instrument, Tumbura. These verses were imbued with deep spiritual fervor. Many of them were full of wisdom and showed them how to lead a pure and happy life. Kabir composed his verses in the common language of the people. His similes and metaphors were homely and natural. There was nothing artificial or learned about them. The result was that his verses made an instant appeal to the common people of his time. Kabir had not only a fine sense of music but was endowed with a melodious voice which lent charm to his songs and couplets.
Kabir’s admirers and followers would learn his couplets by heart and sang them with feeling and devotion alone and in company. That is how the songs and couplets saw the light of day and have come down to us. This is also why we notice some variations in the language of the dohas and songs collected from different sources.
Kabir has been credited with the authorship of several thousands of bhajanas (songs) and dohãs (couplets) which effortlessly flowed from his lips. Some three hundred of the songs have found place in the holy Granth Saheb of the Sikh faith. His diction and style are distinctly his own. Most of the original couplets have been taken from the works of Dr. Ram Kumar Verma, Dr. Sham Sunder Das and Acarya Hazari Prasad Dvwedy. Professor Ram Kumar Vcrma has this to say about the genius of Kabir in his well-known work “Kabir, Biography and Philosophy”
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