Category Archives: Kabir

Mere Nazar Mein Moti Aayo

Diya, Diwali, Deepavali, Deepawali, Hindu, Lamp, LightHappy Deepavali everybody! May your lives light up with joy! May the light in your eyes never fade!

And that is my tale for you today – about the light in my own eyes. The story has morals and teachings, as do all tales if we just bother to look.  I’ve shared my own insights not for moralising, but for you to think about your own stories and derive your own morals from them.

I’ve been very short sighted as long as I can remember. It was quite by accident that my grandmother discovered by inability to see when she pointed out a passing bus number to me. I was about 8 then. ‘Do buses have numbers?’ I had asked in surprise. The optician she took me to was shocked as to how I survived with no glasses! I was so amazed when I looked around the world that first time with glasses. ‘Is this what you all see?’ I asked my grandmother in great surprise. How could I have known? If you have poor eyesight since birth, that is your only reality.

Moral : Our reality is defined by ourselves, within our parameters. It is not THE reality. Unless we test our parameters, we will not be able to keep bettering the definition of our own reality.

What a difference the glasses made! Until then I was a dud in school, performing near the bottom 30% of the class. I was also shy and didn’t have much to say. I can’t remember now, but I think I could never see the chalk board clearly so I used to be quite lost most of the time. After the specs I shot up to being in the top 10% of the class. This gave confidence and I got the attention of teachers. That gave further motivation until anything other than topping the class became unacceptable to me. This led to other openings and by the time I finished, I was in dramatics, debating and the like. Soon the approbation of others stopped mattering. The pleasure of doing anything well was motivation enough.

Moral : Both failure and success have root causes which may not be obvious so look at everyone with a kindly eye and lend a helping hand if you can. Sometimes a push in one direction can have a waterfall effect, so perhaps your support and encouragement will allow people to reach their potential.

I am not much for sports, so I don’t think my eyesight caused me to lose out much in life. In my teenage years, I used to be called four-eyes or such silly names by the class bully boys, but hey, I was the class topper and they always came to me for my notes, so my ego didn’t bruise much.

Moral : Careful about denigrating people – you may need their help one day and then where will you be?

I switched to contact lenses in my late teens and wore them for many years until one day I just decided I had had enough of it. For the last 20 years I have worn only glasses.  I have been going regularly to an ophthalmologist for about 15 years as my eyes are in the high-risk category for a number of problems. So I have been well-aware of the onset of the cataracts. It happened gradually but one day I found that I had had just enough of the dazzling lights while driving at night. Last week the lens in one eye was removed and replaced with an IOL – Intraocular Cataract Lens. That very day I was seeing quite well and now that it has settled down, I have 20/20 vision in the eye! Perhaps I am imagining it, but it seems I am seeing far more sharply than I have ever seen with any glasses or contact lenses! The world from this eye has a blueish tinge; the other eye has a yellowish cast; I was surprised and looked it up. It seems ageing eyes develop the yellowishness which I didn’t even know about! It’s all rather magical.

Moral : Sometimes solutions to problems exceed expectations and you wonder why you ever worried!

However I am quite struggling with near vision. How wonderful is our God given lens that it can focus from near to far with little trouble! My corrected eye which has now a perfect vision for the distance is no good for reading or the computer, or even the phone. I am finding it all quite difficult.

Moral : There is often a sting to the tail/tale; watch out for it!

My myopic eye will be fixed within a month. I am wearing disposable contact lenses in the eye for the moment. My doctor is suggesting something called Monovision. She will under-correct the vision in the second eye so it will be better for intermediate and near vision. My doc tells me that the brain will adjust to relying on one eye for distant vision and the other one for the near. I am testing it now as my contact lens is under corrected. It’s not perfect but it works to a degree. The world feels a bit weird though, as if I am sleep walking. Will it fix itself in time? Should I correct for distance vision in both eyes and just get reading glasses? What happens when I am sketching and need to look at both the distance and my drawing sheet intermittently? Or while taking notes at a seminar? Do I get those narrow glasses which perch at the end of one’s nose?

Moral : Dilemmas abound in life. There are positives and negatives to everything. Think things through thoroughly, make a decision and then make sure you don’t complain about the negatives.

So thats my tale. And as to my song, I had no choice but to choose ‘Mere Nazar Mein Moti Aayo‘ which translates to ‘I have cataract in my eyes‘! Sung by Shobha Gurtu, It is from a CD called Hari Rang Rati (1992). I featured another song from it in a post many years ago. On searching now, I see a CD called Main Bagiyan Mein with the same songs. The poetry is by Kabir whose words I admire so very much. Of course he is referring to the clouding of the mind’s eyes, not the physical one. For that the operation is far more complex and beyond my reach. Shobha Gurtu sings with heart and soul, I hope you enjoy this song on this Deepavali Day.

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Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Note to all my readers : I do not have the knowledge to translate Kabir as he is a mystic poet and there is meaning within meaning, none of which is clear to me. But then not only are my eyes clouded, but so is my mind! I leave it to you good people to get what you can from this.

मेरे नज़र में मोती आयो
मैं भला भरोसे पायो

mErE nazar mE.n mOtI AyO
mai.n bhalA bharOsE pAyO

Cataract (mOtI short for mOtiyAbinda) has come (AyO) in (mE.n) my (mErE) eyesight (nazar), and I (mai.n) gained (pAyO) good (bhalA) supports (bharOsE)

What use is there in having clear vision when the mind is clouded? Kabir refers to the clouding of his the mind’s eye, not the physical one. In those times when operations were not available to the common man in India, a man with a clouded eye needed someone to show the way. Who did Kabir find, the ones he calls as good support? When the eyes are clouded, we need support from a marg-darshak, the one who shows the way. Kabir may be referring to a Guru or to God.

चार कुण्ड का देवढ़ बनायो
उस पर कलश भरायो

chAr kUNda kA dEvaD banAyO
us par kalash bharAyO

I (implied) made (banAyO) a temple (dEvaD) of four (chAr) tanks/ponds (kUND) and (implied) filled (bharAyO) a pot (kalash) from it (us par).

A temple is an oft made analogy for our body but it is not clear to me what the four temple tanks represent. Kabir fills his water jug, or his soul, with the contents of these ponds, which I assume to be reservoirs of spiritual knowledge. I am defeated by linguistic knowledge and can see no further. Thanks to reader Padma who told me dEvaD is a Rajasthani term for a temple.

देश देश के दर्शन आये
संतन के मन भायो

dEsh dEsh kE darshan AyE
santan kE man bhAyO

People (implied) from many places (dEsh dEsh kE) came (AyE) to see (darshan); he crept into the hearts (man bhAyO) of the good people (santan).

Who did people come to see from far away places? It must be Kabir himself. Did he charm the good people who came to see him? Or did he influence people into letting God enter their hearts? Did they come to sip from this kalash he filled with spiritual knowledge?

सेज सूनी पर साहब मेरा
तीन लोक सब छायो

sEj sUnI par sAhab mErA
tIn lOk sab chAyO

My (mera) Lord (sAhab) spreads (chAyO) all (sab) three (tIn) worlds (lok) upon (par) my (mErA) empty (sUnI) bed (sEj) .

The empty bed is possibly life itself, lonely and meaningless without the presence of God. But the good Lord spreads all three worlds on this for Kabir.

कहत कबीरा सुनो भई साधो
हुकुमी नाव चलायो

kahat kabIrA sunO bhayI sAdhO
hukumI nAv chalAyO

Kabir says (kahat), listen (sunO) oh good brothers (bhayI sAdhO), God (hukumI, the one who governs) sails (sails) the boat (nAv).

Crossing the ocean of life is an oft repeated simile in India. Kabir says God himself will sail the boat which will help you cross it.

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Filed under Hindustani Classical Music, Kabir, Shobha Gurtu

Naiharwa

Guru BrahmaWho will quench this burning fire within me? I can stay no longer in this natal home of mine. He, my beloved, is far far away in the most beautiful of towns where nobody comes or goes. Who will take a message to Him for me? Who will tell Him of my unbearable pain of separation from Him? The path to my beloved’s town is not clear. Is it my past which clouds the way to Him? Oh how this separation burns me! Who else but my Guru can tell me the secret to reach Him? Listen, O Good people, He comes in my dreams to quench this fire in my soul.

So sings Kabir in this beautiful and mystical song. Was this burning need for God which showed him the way to salvation, I wonder? How many births do we need to take before the need burns as strong in us? How many lifetimes do we have to live until we can shake off the earthly needs and desires which make us dance to their tunes? Where will we find the Guru who can show us the way, the path to our Lord’s hometown?

Today is Guru Poornima, the day to honour our preceptors. We have so many teachers in our lives, do we not? Our parents are our first teachers, followed by those at school and at university. Our spouses and our children teach us as they show us how to be and how not to be. Our friends too are our teachers, for do we not learn from them? Our sins and our mistakes are our teachers too, for they point to us the error of our ways. Books are often excellent teachers, as are strangers on the web who share their knowledge. I look around me and all I see are teachers and teachers..and I see a glimpse of the ultimate preceptor in all of them. I thank and honour them all, for they have all been part of making the person who I am today. But like Kabir I ask, who will teach me the way forward? When will He come to quench my thirst? Today on Guru Poornima day I pray for a Guru to show me the way home. For this naiharwa, this natal home of mine, this earth, palls day by day.

To present this song, I have chosen a rendition by Kailash Kher. Though he doesn’t sing the middle verse, I love his rendition for his voice is the salt of the Indian earth. Ideally though, I would have liked the accompaniments to be simple and traditional instruments.  I am a great fan of Kabir’s poetry and in the voice of Kailash Kher it becomes something magical.


Footnote (Lyrics)

Language: Braj Bhasha

Note: The lyrics are unauthenticated. They are sufficient for the purpose of enjoying the song but should not be referred for any scholarly work.

नैहरवा हमका न भावै , न भावै रे ।

सॉई की नगरी परम अति सुन्दर,
जहाँ कोई जाए ना आवै ।
चाँद सुरज जहाँ, पवन न पानी,
कौ संदेस पहुँचावै, 
दरद यह सॉई को सुनावै ।

आगे चालौ (चलौ?) पंथ नहीं सूझै,
पीछे दोष लगावै ।
केहि बिधि ससुरे जाऊँ मोरी सजनी,
बिरहा जोर जरावै ,
विषैरस नाच नचावै ।

बिन सतगुरू अपनों नहीं कोई,
जो यह राह बतावै ।
कहत कबीर सुनो भाई साधो,
सपने में प्रीतम आवै,
तपन यह जिया की बुझावै ।

Transliteration

naiharwa hamkA na bhAvai

sAyI kI nagarI parama ati sundar
jahA.n kOI jAyE na Avai
chA.nd suraj jahA.n pavan na pAnI
kOU sa.ndEs pahu.chAvai
darad yah sAyI kO sunAvai

AgE chAlau panTH nahi.n sUjhai
pICHE dOsh lagAvai
kEhi bidhi sasurE jAU.n mOrI sajanI
birahA jOr jarAvai
vishairas nAch nachAvai

bin satguru apnO.n nahI.n kOI
jO yah rAh batAvai
kahat kabIr sunO bhAI sAdhO
sapnE mE.n prItam Avai
tapan yah jiyA kI bujhAvai

Translation

My natal home appeals no more.

The town of God is so very beautiful,
but no one goes or comes from there.
There is neither the sun or the moon, nor wind or water.
Who will take my message there?
Who will talk of my pain to God?

I cannot see the path to go forward,
One blames the past for it.
Which way shall I go to my husband’s home ? (Note: unsure as to who is addressed as mOrI sajanI=my love in a feminine form)
This separation burns me intensely,
this poisonous blood (unsure?) makes me dance to its tune.

There is none else but my good Guru
who can tell me this secret.
Kabir says ‘Listen O good people, O brothers,
The Lord (my beloved) comes in my dream
and quenches the burning of my soul’
.

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Filed under Bhajan, Kabir, Kailash Kher

Jheeni Jheeni Beeni Chadariya

Last month I learnt to knit. I should say I re-learnt, because I had knit once for a school project when I was a teenager. I didn’t enjoy it then.  One month back, the urge to knit came suddenly upon me. Armed with some needles, wool and how-to-knit Youtube videos, I successfully knit scarves for my son and my daughter. That was in Melbourne.

Yesterday I flew back from my home in Australia to my home in Switzerland. As I came awake at 3 am, slowly becoming aware of my changed surroundings, I let my still sleepy mind wander through last month, looking for insight and learning as I often do. Thinking of my knitting, it struck me that the lessons I learnt from it applies equally well to life.

  • Choose the right yarn with which to knit  I chose a ‘furry’ kind for my first project. I was forever disturbing the strands and unravelling mistakes was painful! And thus too in life. Choosing the wrong kind of ‘yarn’ in the form of people or work to knit our lives will lead us to disturbed and broken strands and leave us with problems too difficult to unravel.
  • Its easier to be careful than to fix errors Sometimes it is just a momentary carelessness. You make a mistake in the pattern or drop a stitch and you don’t even notice. When you finally realise your error, it takes a lot of time and effort to fix it. Surely it is easier just to be careful from the start? Isn’t that true in life too? How many mistakes I have made, how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it has been to fix them! If only I had had the sense to be careful from the start…sigh!
  • One cannot see a pattern by one stitch It may only be made up of simple knits and purls, but you need to knit a swatch before the pattern becomes evident. One stitch shows nothing. Thus too with people. One cannot know of ourselves, others or life by one action. Watch the pattern.

All these were my pre-waking up thoughts. As I came awake I thought, oh I know who sang of life and stitches or rather life and weaving. Kabir of course! I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to listen to the wonderful, inimitable Kumar Gandharva singing Kabir’s poetry ‘Jheeni Jheeni Beeni Chadariya’. The poet compares life to a woven wrap. ‘Subtly, delicately, He wove this wrap! What is its warp? What is its weft? With what fibre was it woven?’ he wonders. Describing this body which is just a wrap the soul takes on, to be discarded at the end of life, he says ‘Gods, men and sages have worn this wrap and sullied it by their wearing. This servant Kabir is wearing this with care so that he can leave it unsullied, just as it was.’ For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

Kumar Gandharva sings this superbly; he is reflective but still has a great depth of emotion. I imagine that Kabir would have sung in this same simple folk style. Kumar Gandharva is quite remarkable, this is the epitome of meditative singing. I believe it is raga Jogiya. Just listen!

This comes from a lovely album called Nirguni Bhajans. To listen to the whole album, click here.

I have been fascinated by Kabir since my teenage years. I enjoyed his poetry which is often pithy but also mystical. So I was particularly interested when I came upon the site of the Kabir Project while looking for Kumar Gandharva’s connection with Kabir. I saw one of the films : Koi Sunta Hai-Journeys with Kumar and Kabir. It was both informative and interesting, with some lovely music. It is subtitled in English. I urge anyone interested in Kabir, Kumar Gandharva, spirituality or the folk music of India to watch this. Last week I wrote of Saints of India and their music. I was reminded after seeing the film that music and spirituality runs in the veins of India.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

झीनी झीनी बीनी चदरिया ॥
काहे कै ताना काहे कै भरनी
कौन तार से बीनी चदरिया ॥
इङ्गला पिङ्गला ताना भरनी
सुखमन तार से बीनी चदरिया ॥
आठ कँवल दल चरखा डोले
पाँच तत्व गुण तीनी चदरिया ॥
सांई को सियत मास दस लागे
ठोंक ठोंक कै बीनी चदरिया ॥
सो चादर सुर नर मुनि ओढ़े
ओढ़ कै मैली कीनी चदरिया ॥
दास कबीर जतन से ओढी,
ज्यों कीं त्यों धर दीनी चदरिया ॥

Transliteration:

jhInI jhInI bInI chadariyA
kAhE kai tAnA kAhE kè bharnI
kaun tAr sE bInI chadariyA
ingalA pingalA tAnA bharnI
sukhman tAr sE bInI chadariyA
AT kanwal dal charkhA DolE
pAnch tatv guN tInI chadariyA
sA.nyI kO siyat mAs das lAgE
TO.nk TO.nk kè bInI chadariyA
sO chAdar sur nar muni ODE
OD kai mailI kInI chadariyA
dAs kabIr jatan sE ODI
jyO.n kI tyO.n dInI chadariyA

Translation :

Subtly, delicately He wove this wrap!
What is its warp? What is its weft? With what fibre was this woven?
The Nadis Ingala and Pingala are the warp and weft,
the Nadi Sushumna is the fibre,
He turned the eight-fold lotus wheel,
and with the five elements (Aakash-Spirit, Vayu-Air, Agni-Fire, Ap-Water, Prithvi-Earth) and three attributes (Sattva-trans-active, Rajas-Active, Tamas-Inactive) (he wove this wrap).
He took ten full months,
knock by knock he wove this wrap
Gods, men and sages have worn this wrap
and sullied it by their wearing.
This servant (of God) Kabir is wearing this with care
So that he can leave it as it was (unsullied).

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Filed under Bhajan, Composer and/or Lyricist, Kabir, Kumar Gandharva

Janam Tera Baton Hi Beet Gayo

KabirWhen 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.


Footnote (lyrics):

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?

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Filed under Anup Jalota, Bhajan, Kabir