IN ~ Translator
Translations from Kabir*
Couplets from vernacular Hindi (Avadhi dialect)
Crossed the River
crossed the river,
where will you go, O friend?
there's no road to tread,
no traveler ahead,
neither a beginning, nor an end.
there's no water,
no boat, no boatman, no cord;
no earth is there,
no sky, no time, no bank, no ford.
you have forgotten the Self within,
your search in the void will be in vain;
in a moment the life will ebb,
and you in this body will not remain.
be ever conscious of this, O friend,
you've to immerse within your Self;
Kabir says, salvation you won't then need,
for what you are, you'll be indeed
This translation of
Kabir's "Having Crossed the River" previously appeared on Ivan
O Swan Go
O Swan go back
to your own country.
Having forgotten whence you have come
you have ventured into an alien land.
In your country there's no ploughing or sowing
yet the fruits of divine pleasure are ever growing.
In that land there is no death or disease,
nor does one meet sorrow or misery.
O Swan go and dwell in the lake of His knowledge
and pick jewels for ever and ever.
Says Kabir: listen O wise one,
that country is verily abiding and eternal.
Target's Behind the Sky
The target is
behind the sky
the sun's on the right the moon on the left—
in between it remains hidden
this body is a bow
the mind its string
and the Word its arrow - aimed straight
the messenger of the True Guru - that it is—
this arrow has pierced through the body impure
but this arrow doesn't any injury inflict—
they know who have, indeed, felt it
says Kabir, listen, O wise one,
those who have known,
they only acknowledge it
is a Lyre
A lyre is this
body, O friend.
When its strings are tightened and keys screwed,
the Self within it breaks into a sweet tune.
When the strings get snapped
and keys become loose,
the instrument is left to gather dust.
Friend, be not proud of this body,
one day its swan will fly away.
Says Kabir, listen O brother,
rare is he who bravely walks
the arduous path that leads to Him.
saint my doubts clarify.
With roots above and leaves below,
a tree is between the earth and sky!
It's strange that iron floats,
but the gourd sinks in water.
People go on reading scriptures
and argue more and more,
without getting to the core.
Says Kabir, listen O wise one,
the world is trapped in needle's eye!
*Kabir (circa 1398-1518)
was a leading light of the great devotional movement
that swept across India during the 15th and 16th
centuries. He spent most of his life in and around
Benares in North India. According to some legends, he
was abandoned by his Hindu mother soon after his birth
and was brought up by a Muslim weaver. He came into
contact with Ramananda, a Hindu sage, fairly early in
his life and was soon drawn towards the teachings of the
Upanishads and the Sufis. In due course of time, Kabir
established his own order, the Kabirpanth, which
harmonised Hinduism and Islam by preaching a universal
path. Kabir believed in one attributeless God and held
that one's liberation from the endless cycle of births
and death is possible when the individual soul (jivaatmaa)
merges with the Universal Soul (Parmaatmaa). An apostle
of peace and a votary of non-violence, Kabir condemned
animal slaughter, dogmas and rituals as well as worship
of idols. He was strongly opposed to religious
fanaticism of both the Hindus and Muslims and attacked
the rigours of the caste system and social evils like
widow-burning (sati). Kabir was thus far ahead of his
time. His poems and couplets in vernacular Hindi (Avadhi
dialect) were compiled by his followers in the 'Bijak'.
Many of his songs have found their way into the holy
book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Saheb, and are
popular among the Indian masses even today.
~Sunil Uniyal, IN
Uniyal is based in New Delhi and works for
Government of India. His haiku 'Milestone' first
appeared in the early eighties in the Mirror
Magazine of Mumbai. Of late, these have found
space in e- journals like Muse India, Kritya,
Haiku Dreaming Australia and Notes from the Gean.
He is also engaged in the translation of the poems of
Hindi and Urdu poets like Kabir, Sur, Ajneya, Ghalib and
Mir Taqi Mir. His other interests include religion, art
and archaeology and has even written a monograph on
Games and Sports in Indian Art and Archaeology.