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?
12 responses to “Janam Tera Baton Hi Beet Gayo”
Something familiar (Hindi) after a long while. Though I read your posts about the Carnatic music, I’m not quite familiar with it, and cannot watch the YouTube videos oftentimes because of low connectivity. Still, they work kind of introductory for me 🙂
And I’m slowly inching towards the 30s (about 28 now), and already started feeling that greed 😐
I should do more posts on bhajans and qawwalis, two genres I like very much 🙂 Ah the greed of the thirties, to establish oneself, to gain the respect of peers, to be financially stable and more, to provide well for one’s dependents…how many people can escape this need? Not many I reckon. And before you know years will fly past in satisfying this need..
Wonderful post I can relate to you, being of the same generation. LOvely music of course.
Thanks Ramesh 🙂 I think that the story is a shared story of our generation, isn’t it? We are the generation which provided support to our families when we were young, supported our children when they were growing up (or still support them, my younger one is still at university), and will need to support ourselves when we grow older as we cannot expect it of our children. And so life has passed us by and even those like me who are spiritually inclined have had little time to devote to that quest. What Kabir said 500+ years back is still valid, how surprising is that? !!
I am astonished by your verstality. I am not well versed with norths bakthi movement. That is due to my south indian brought up. How ever i was always drawn to old hindi film songs. Suja i want you to do a piece on Cakkaravagam- my fav raagam. Do listen to a malayalam film song from Satyam sivam sundram- Angakaley based on cakkravagam.
Oh, I am just like the many South Indians brought up in North India. Carnatic Music may be my first love, but Hindustani Classical, Bhajans, Qawwalis and Ghazals come a close behind. And like most people, I grew up on a diet of Hindi film music.
As to the North Indian Bhakti movement, its a very important part of Indian spiritual history, isn’t it? If your Hindi is reasonable, you should indeed read Kabir for he is extraordinary. Carnatic Musicians sing some Meera bhajans from time to time (mostly thanks to MS and her movie I think) but the Southerners dont hear Kabir or Surdas.
Chakravaham is your favourite raga? I am reminded of my brother-in-law, who loves it too 🙂 Sure, I will soon write a post on it.
I just heard the song you recommended, what a fantastic song! I now want to see the film…youtube has it but no subtitles. Thanks for the song recommendation, its really lovely.
Wow, what a bhajan madam. Been listening to this since yesterday.
The discussion about qawwalis reminded me of old days when my friends and me would listen endlessly to a tape of NFAK’s live in london recording. These are available at musicindiaonline under the name traditional sufi qawwalis (4 volumes).
Thank you for your comment Jay! I am glad you liked the Bhajan – Kabir is very perceptive about human fraility, isn’t he?
I am probably one of the biggest fan of NFAK 🙂 I own the set of CDs you mention (along with 40-50 or so others!). If you like Qawaalis, read these posts of mine : https://sujamusic.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/main-to-piya-se-naina/ and my post devoted to NFAK https://sujamusic.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/love-at-first-listening/
I have been focused on Carnatic Music but I intend to write on more of NFAK soon. Keep reading 🙂
Thanks madam, I left a comment there. Please do more bhajans also. I just recently started listening to bhajans. I guess my ego was too big and too worldly to listen to bhajans before.
Excellent. Lesson for life. Purify your soul and think of Lord Krishna and get salvation. Great thanks so much.
I wrote this is 2012..it is now 2018 and I still mired in the same concerns of family-finances-health. Kabir is right…we do waste our lives away! Thanks for your comment.