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Kabir : The Life And Work of The Early Modern Poet - Philosopher

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Item Code: NBZ997
Author: Purushottam Agrawal
Publisher: Westland Publications Pvt Ltd., Chennai
Language: English Text With Hindi Translation
Edition: 2021
ISBN: 9789390679157
Pages: 284 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: HARDCOVER
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inches
Weight 410 gm
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About The Book

Kabir's truth was real for him and is real for those who engage with his poetry as seekers. The divine within seeks to make us decent human beings, tranquil and compassionate on the inside, just as ideas like justice and equality aspire to create a tranquil and compassionate society around us. One cannot exist without the other. Policy alone does not create paradise. Neither does poetry, on its own.

About the Author

PURUSHOTTAM AGRAWAL served as a member of the Union Public Service Commission of India from 2007 to 2013. Before this, he was professor and chairperson, Centre of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has been a visiting professor at Cambridge University, UK, and is a British Academy fellow at Wolfson College there. He has also been a visiting professor at EL Colegio de Mexico.

A well-known panelist on TV debates, Agrawal hosted a unique show on books called `Kitab' on Rajya Sabha TV. His published works in Hindi include Akath Kahani Prem ki: Kabir ki Kavita our Unka Samay (2009), widely acclaimed as a path-breaking study on Kabir; Majbooti ka Naam Mahatma Gandhi (2005), which throws new light on issues of violence and power; Hindi Serai: Astrakhan via Yerevan (2013), a travelogue which traces the history of Indian traders who settled in Astrakhan, Russia, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries; and his debut novel Nacohus, a Kafkaesque fantasy on the politics of hurt sentiments. In English, his works include Padmavat: An Epic Love Story, a commentary on Malik Muhammad Jayasi's work, and Who is Bharat Mata? (2019), a selection from Nehru's writings and speeches on history, culture and the idea of India.

Introduction

I watched Purushottam Agrawal speak on the Kumbha Mela at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2013. He refused to make the separation between the material and the spiritual as other scholars do. He did not see the grand gathering as exotic: he looked beyond the naked sadhus and the hygiene issues at the interconnectedness of the economic, the political, the historical, the cultural, the spiritual and the practical. This interconnectedness - of the context to the content, of the historical to the timeless, of the weaver to the poet, of the revolutionary thinker to the mystic - is seen in this book too. Hence the two Kabirs in the title.

I did not know that Agrawal was a Kabir scholar until I saw his passion, over coffee that day, as he explained how Western academics wanted to see the poet as a Muslim weaver, and so, wanted to distance him from any Brahminical influence, while at the same time, Kabir fans and followers strove hard to make him `spiritual, not religious, for their own convenience. I bought his acclaimed book on Kabir the same day at the festival bookstore but found the Hindi too tough to follow. I begged him to translate or rewrite the book for an English reader like me. How long would we keep criticising Western scholars for approaching India using Western methodologies? Surely, we Indians should share Indian methodologies in a global world? He agreed.

But inspiration is one thing, implementation is another. It took a long time for this manuscript to finally be ready after a pleasant detour - Padmavat, the book that I also had the privilege of inspiring, introducing and illustrating. Kabir, Kabir, however, is not a translation of the Hindi book. It is a new output, the result of his continued engagement with Kabir and Bhakti and its contemporary relevance.

We live in times when academics rarely engage with the public. Those who do are often trolled by politicians, as scholarly works challenge propaganda. We also live in times when academics study religion but insist they are not religious in order to assert their objectivity. Religious folk are busy being territorial about their faith and simultaneously terrified of critically examining their beliefs. But a book like this allows the general reader to enjoy the work of good scholarship: the warp of historical, political and literary facts and the weft of spiritual ideas - the full tapestry of Kabir. I call this the Indian way, the masala way, where all flavours explode simultaneously and provide insights both individually and collectively.

Kabir is a historical figure. But his ideas are not material; they are mystical, hence mythic. He believes in the spirit, a universal divinity present inside everyone, that he seeks and shares. Is this divine a measurable fact? No, it is not. It is therefore outside the purview of science. But it is a matter of faith, and faith is a construct, like gender, infinity, justice and equality. We need to outgrow the nineteenth - century binary of `fact and fiction' and embrace twenty-first century ideas where we recognise that between fact (everybody's truth) and fiction (nobody's truth) is the realm of myth (somebody's truth). Kabir's truth was real for him and is real for those who engage with his poetry as seekers. The divine within seeks to make us decent human beings, tranquil and compassionate on the inside, just as ideas like justice and equality aspire to create a tranquil and compassionate society around us. One cannot exist without the other. Policy alone does not create paradise. Neither does poetry, on its own.

In the Vedas, divinity is called 'Brahman' and is as elusive as the meaning of a metaphor. Religion seeks to establish it outside, as god, formless in Islam, sculpted as fabulous imagery in Hinduism. Mystics establish it within, as spirit and soul, present here and there and everywhere. In his quest of this inner divinity, Kabir found no value in external religious forms or performances. Does that make him anti-religion and secular? Can a mystic be secular? Was Kabir's mysticism influenced by Islam or the Upanishads? Was he Hindu or Muslim? What were his influences? What was his caste? How did he deal with issues of class? Was he married? Did he have children, students, inheritors of his tradition? Somewhere in these academic and political enquiries and debates, the divine within is overlooked, even deliberately ignored.

Bhakti, or emotional response to the divine, is part of most religions and expressed in rituals and poetry of adoration. In Vedic times, the gods were invited through the ritual of yagna to partake of soma offerings and bestow blessings before departing. Emotion is embedded in the ritual of feeding. You cannot feed without emotion, unless you are a machine. The term `bhakti' becomes explicit only in the Mahabharata, in the Bhagavad Gita narrative, when Krishna suggests Bhakti yoga as an approach to solve Arjuna's ethical dilemma just before the war. It is significant that after the war, when Arjuna tells Krishna to repeat his words, Krishna speaks of the intellectual and per formative aspects of his discourse, Gyan yoga and Karma yoga, but not the emotional. Bhakti, it seems, is almost a last resort for the warrior.

Bhakti was also not the favoured response for Adi Shankara, the eighth-century Vedanta scholar, who, like the Buddhists he challenged, preferred the intellectual approach to the divine. Bhakti, as we know it, emerged in south India and was intimately linked with temple traditions. Alvars and Nayanars sang passionately about Vishnu and Shiva, but their Vishnu and Shiva were clearly housed in temples and had geographical anchors. In the eleventh century, Ramanuja linked Vedanta philosophy to bhakti and privileged the Sagun (god-with-form) bhakti of temples over the Nirgun (god-without-form) bhakti of the old yagna schools.

**Contents and Sample Pages**







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