Kabir. Community Weaver.

Kabir (1398-1448) ranks among the world's greatest poets and mystics. He was "also a satirist and philosopher, and a poet of timeless wit and wisdom. Equally immersed in theology and social thought, music and politics, his songs have won devoted followers from every walk of life through the past five centuries. He was a Muslim by name, but his ideas stand at the intersection of Hinduism and Islam, Bhakti and Yoga, religion and secularism. And his words were always marked by rhetorical boldness and conceptual subtlety."

In Kabir: The Weaver's Songs from Penguin, Vinay Dharwadker "offers a sparkling new translation of one hundred poems, drawing for the first time on major sources in half a dozen literary languages. They closely mimic the structure, voice and style of the originals, revealing Kabir's multiple facets in historical and cultural contexts. Finely balancing simplicity and complexity, this selection opens up new forms of imagination and experience for discerning readers around the world."

Rabindranath Tagore also found much to admire in Kabir, who he translated- perhaps not as felicitously- in 1914.

Receive that Word from which the Universe springeth!

That Word is the Guru; I have heard it, and become the disciple.

How many are there who know the meaning of that Word?

O Sadhu! practise that Word!

Rupa Books, New Delhi, has a nice hardcover edition of this set of 100 poems in translation.

This post is also about the brilliant Kabir Project that was started in 2003. Through a set of documentary films, folk music videos and music CDs, accompanied by books of the poetry in translation, the aim is to spread the word of Kabir, increasingly more relevant in these times...

Largely the effort of Shabnam Virmani, a documentary filmmaker and artist in residence at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, the Kabir Project showed in Bangalore earlier this year, and in the US. Though, of course, the message would be welcome all over our country as well. Details of the films, CDs etc. can be found on their website, http://www.kabirproject.org/ which is designed as an online multimedia archive of the music and poetry of Kabir. All the material is incredibly good value!

Consider one of the four documentaries, HAD-ANHAD: Journeys with Ram & Kabir. "Kabir defied the boundaries between Hindu and Muslim, refusing to be labeled himself and sharply criticizing sectarianism. His name and upbringing were Muslim but his poetry often uses Hindu concepts and Hindu names for God, especially Ram. This film journeys in search of the “Ram” invoked in Kabir's poetry, delving into the heart of divisive Hindu-Muslim politics of religion and nationalism, encountering singers and lay people in India and Pakistan, probing the forces of history and politics that have created disputatiously diverse Rams, while also spawning many Kabirs."

The others are as imaginative, and explore much new ground.  Poems of Kabir, Rs 95, 124 pages, hardcover, ISBN: 9788171676729

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