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What is your mind’s picture of Kabir?

Are you thinking of all the recent Hindi movie songs mentioning him? Or may be your school Hindi text book? I think that the picture either of these conjure – that of an ascetic and a rebel or that of a wise preacher or a questioning cynic, have come to shadow another aspect of Kabir’s writings – that of a powerful, all-encompassing passion. These are writings of unabashed love and longing. These verses may not necessarily be about romantic love, but who says that it is the only love worth celebrating?

I recently came across some of these compositions; they are not avuncular, chiding or detached – they are brimming with emotion and are gloriously evocative.

When he says

Laali meri laal ki, jit dekhu tit laal

Laali dekhan mein gayi, mein bhi ho gayi laal

I notice not only the play on laal, but I also am seeing a couple playing Holi and smearing red on each other, I picture the aggression with which one holds another, their laughter mute as a cloud of gulaal descends around them. I am thinking also of redness of mehendi, of how a bride colours herself red. I am thinking of a face blushing in pleasure.

In another verse that stuck with me, he says

Naina antar aao tu, nain jhaapi tohi leu

Na mein dekhu aur ko, na tohi dekhan deu

Haven’t we all felt that urge to fold a beloved one in our arms and shut the world out entirely?

I think it is the nature of these verses, where Kabir speaks not as a teacher, but as someone in the thrall of an emotion, which makes these couplets so vivid. I wish these verses and the passionate side of Kabir’s writing comes into prominence too.

I wonder if it is because of our awkwardness about exhibiting emotions in general (apart from anger, of course) or because of the glamour attached to being rebellious or possibly because of a focus on deifying (and therefore pruning off ardour of any shade) Sant Kabir, this side of Kabir’s writings is not very prevalent.

This is a genius who should be celebrated more than just through a passing reference, or as a token recall in conjunction with calls for religious equality. There are festivals, like Mahindra Kabira Festival, which celebrate Kabir; they could be a wonderful way to reinvent the poet in popular view. Immersive art, in whichever form, is a wonderful allusion to Kabir’s ability to paint emotions in words. I hope as these festivals gain popularity, our mind’s image of Kabir also becomes broader and more inclusive.

 

– Ramya Camasamudram