When words have truth, it does not matter if they were uttered yesterday or 500+ years back. Truth makes you stop and think. Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic saint-poet who was one of the pillars of the Bhakti movement. His couplets and songs have touched me since I was a teenager, as they have touched the millions from Central and Northern India. Centuries have passed and still Hindi speakers of today quote this poet with a casual familiarity. His writings have a simplicity and certain groundedness which ensures a wide appeal.
Today, while listening to this song, I am struck anew by the truth of Kabir’s words. Why, the song reads like the story of my life! Childhood went away in play as the poet says and in my twenties I too went desh-videsh, travelling and being engrossed in my family. My thirties were indeed years of greed, focusing on my career and finances, wanting to do better and better. Maya and wants multiplied. Now in my fifties, my energies are dipping lower and lower and health concerns are getting top billing. ‘Birtha janam gayo’ says Kabir – Life has indeed been wasted. He says ‘Oh stupid mind, understand the truth, why have you forgotten? Life is passing by without having taken the name of Krishna’. I too am appalled to see how life has passed me by. In ancient India, once you were past the Grihastashram (life of a householder), you would start your Vanaprasthashram i.e. take to the forests for a life of simplicity and devotion. I, who need comfortable beds, flush toilets and internet connection at all times, how can I take to Vanaprasthashram? How can our generation focus on the next phase of our lives?
For lyrics and my very basic attempt at translation, see footnote.
Better still, listen to Anup Jalota sing this Bhajan with consummate ease.
जनम तेरा बातों ही बीत गयो रे तूने कबहूँ न कृष्ण कह्यो |
Your life has passed by in mere chatter, without taking the name of Krishna
पाँच बरस का भोला भाला अब तो बीस भयो |
An innocent at 5, then you were 20
मकर पचीसी माया कारण देश विदेश गयो ||
Due to the Maya (illusions) of the twenties, you went travelling
तीस बरस की अब मति उपजी तो लोभ बढ़े नित नयो |
When the mind matured at 30, each day brought a new want, a new greed,
माया जोड़ी तूने लाख करोड़ी पर अजहूँ न तृप्त भयो ||
Wants multiplied into millions, never were you satiated
वृद्ध भयो तब आलस उपजी, कफ नित कंठ रह्यो |
Now old, tiredness has set in and your throat is full of phlegm
संगति तबहूँ ना कीन्हि रे तूने बिरथा जनम गयो ||
Even then you did not seek good company, life went for a waste
यह संसार मतलब का लोभी, जूठा ठाठ रच्यो |
In this world which works to its own selfish ends, you put on a false appearance of splendour
कहत कबीर समझ मन मूरख तू क्यों भूल गयो ||
Kabir says, oh stupid mind, understand this, why have you fogotten?