Kabir’s works stand thoroughly translated and analysed, yet the appeal of his ideas and writings continues to invite further translations and interpretations. Chandan Sinha’s book makes an important contribution to the existing knowledge on Kabir and places this possibly 16th century poet-saint as a guide and philosopher relevant to the modern times.
Opening with a comprehensive introduction to Kabir’s life, his sakhis and the process of translation, the book then gets divided into 21 thematic sections. Sinha chooses to put together sakhis or dohas instead of the more popular bhajans or padas to address the gap in the scholarly attention paid to this section of Kabir’s works. Through this book on sakhis, coming from the word ‘sakshi’, that is to witness, Sinha wants to direct the readers to the everyday lessons Kabir conveys through the couplets. Believed to be originating from Kabir’s own experience with him being the ‘sakshi’ or witness to life, these sakhis also become the medium of his nirguna philosophy.
Sinha’s book not only compiles the sakhis in Hindi and in the Devanagri script but also provides their English translation and concise commentary. Although Sinha followed his own discretion in the selection and arrangement of the sakhis, there seems to exist a natural flow and an internal logic between different sections of the book. Drawing primarily from Mool Bijak Tika Sahit, Sinha has meticulously cited the different sources of the sakhis he came across. What is commendable is the acknowledgement given to oral traditions in making Kabir’s works travel across the country.
This collection of around 100 sakhis, manages to present Kabir’s voice in its various forms and textures without the exclusion of any concepts that form an integral part of his philosophy. Right from the first section that includes a sakhi which establishes the importance of sakhi itself, the reader can notice the thought put in the organization of the couplets. The complete book appears to be tied together structurally with the last sakhi offering a conclusion to this moral and pious tale:
What I had to say I’ve said. Now I have no more to say.
One remains, other goes. Waves merge into the sea. (p.175)
What fills the pages of this tale are sections on larger ideas like that of God, Guru, Maya, ego, truth, death and everyday lessons on good and bad company, speech and good conduct amongst the others. These sakhis remind the readers of Kabir’s Bhakti and the nuances of the nirguna bhakti devotion that stands against ritualistic and materialistic pursuit of God, and urges people to give up desire and look within to find the true path to the attainment of God. Kabir’s monotheistic belief in nirguna (without attributes), nirankar (formless) and niranjan (flawless) form the basis of most of the sakhis. The collection also includes the sakhis that emphasize on Kabir’s anti-caste stance and his notion of equality of all human beings.