Kahat Kabir: Playing with Kabir

I was first introduced to Kabir’s dohas when I was seven. As I read translations of his works, I was drawn to the starkness of his poetry.


“None tell me of this bird that sings

within me

It is neither coloured nor colourless:

it has neither form nor outline:

It sits in the shadow of love.”

Ya tarvar men ek parkheru

(One hundred poems of Kabir, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore, Assisted by Evelyn Underhill. Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1934)

As a child I was strongly drawn to understand social inequalities and the dishonesty of everyday life that is shrouded in the myths of culture and society. As I constantly struggled to make sense of the contradictions of the world we live in, Kabir was a voice, a friendship, a conversation that brought much clarity and companionship. More than seeing him as a 15th century mystic poet who defies labels, as a child, I just saw him as my playmate: someone with whom I could have endless debates, laugh at the ridiculousness of society and feel love, joy, anger, grief, terror and fear without restraint.

I was first introduced to Kabir’s dohas when I was,perhaps, seven years old. As I grew older, I read translations of his works and was constantly drawn to the starkness of his poetry. I found in his work a revolution of thought and action that discarded all falsity and yet had deep compassion and hope. Through his writings, it was easy to touch the silences within myself. Much later in 2010, my friend Bindhumalini who was working with Kabir’s poetry in her music introduced me to the Ulat Bansis of Kabir and Linda Hess’s book, ‘The Bijak of Kabir’. She also introduced me to the Kabir project. Since then, I have been illustrating, painting and writing inspired by Kabir’s poetry and also the incredible music that is woven around it.

The Ulat Bansis

Discovering the Ulat Bansis through Linda Hess’s translations was a defining moment for me. They held surprise, mystery, and fun. The more I read, the more I was seized by a question, ‘In which plane are we looking for reality or logic?’ Interpreting Kabir’s Ulat Bansi through visuals became an exploration of an almost invisible yet vital space in the mind and body. With its compassionate meanings delivered in sensual arrogance, the Ulat Bansi opened up an unexplored terrain of immense vastness that required its own unique form of mapping. Using delicate patterns, vibrant folk forms, and a division of the 2-dimensional space into infinite planes, the poetry became a canvas for self-exploration, meditation and simply hours of fun.

“Hermit, that yogi is my guru

who can untie this song.

A tree stands without root,

without flowers bears fruit;

no leaf, no branch, and eight

sky mouths thundering.

Dance done without feet,

tune played without hands,

praises sung without tongue,

singer without shape or form –

the true teacher reveals.

Seek the bird’s, the fish’s path.

Kabir says, both are hard.

I offer myself to an image:

The being beyond boundaries

and beyond beyond.” 

(24, Page 49, The Bijak of Kabir Linda Hess and Shukdev Singh. The Bijak of Kabir. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002 (orig. North Point Press and Motilal Banasidass, 1983).

The Swan

hamsa, kaho puritan bat

Tell me, O swan, your ancient tale.

From what land do you come, o

Swan? to what shore will you

fly?

(One hundred poems of Kabir, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore, Assisted by Evelyn Underhill. Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1934)

Ya tarvar men ek parkheru, Man mast hua tab kyon bole, Tarvar ek mul bin thada,

Kaun murali sabd sun Anand bhayo, Ud jayega Hans akela …

As I read and listened to the many songs that spoke of the hamsa, bird and moon-bird, they led to a new journey of developing another series in color, acrylic paints on canvas, capturing birds flying in surreal spaces of color. As I painted each work, I healed in many ways from struggles, sorrows, fears, pain that had been wrecking me around that time.

Akatha Kahani

Akatha Kahani is a song, story and dance presentation on Kabir. Akatha Kahani or untellable story is a presentation on Kabir, where three sisters attempt to showcase this special alchemy between Kabir and his listeners by sharing their individual encounters with Kabir.

Srivi’s painting for Akatha Kahani

Working with Bindhu, Jaya and Archana and listening to them sharing their stories of Kabir has led to many powerful experiences for me. Painting for another Akatha Kahani event led me to some very unexpected and new understandings of poetry that I had been reading and listening to more than two years. Rediscovering Maya anew as the sisters sang Maya Maha Thugni Hum Jaani (http://www.sunosuno.in/), I suddenly saw it as light instead of illusion and darkness. A very powerful and transformative experience, that shifted many paradigms for me, I was deeply touched to have had this gift of understanding.

The Auroville Sacred Music Festival

The Kabir festival at Auroville was another incredible experience. Meeting and spending quality time with Marc and Anne (two of the organizers of the festival) and several others, designing art for the festival working with the organizers for over four months, meeting the folk artists, Shabnam Virmani and just immersing myself for three days in the festival were like infusing myself with a new life-force.

Srivi’s exhibition at Auroville

Playing with Kabir

Yet another journey with Kabir was through writing a poetry collection titled “Playing with Kabir” displayed as part of my exhibition at Auroville. As I wrote, I felt very free. I felt comfortable sharing what had been a personal, sacred and private space for me throughout my life. Once again, that freedom and courage to share came from Kabir’s voice

Hide and Seek from the collection- Playing with Kabir

Let’s play hide and seek he called,

I hid behind a dune,

He searched for me.

Let’s play hide and seek I called,

He hid behind a waterfall,

I searched for him.

Let’s play hide and seek he called,

I hid in a cave,

He searched for me.

Let’s play hide and seek I called,

He hid above the clouds,

I searched for him.

Let’s play hide and seek he called,

I hid between a flock of sheep,

He searched for me.

Let’s play hide and seek I called,

He hid on an eagle,

I searched for him.

Let’s play hide and seek he called

I hid under a mountain,

He searched for me

Let’s play hide and seek I called,

He hid above the planets,

I searched for him.

Let’s play hide and seek he called,

I hid inside myself,

He searched for me.

Let’s play hide and seek I called,

He hid inside the Great Spirit,

I searched for him…

Is ghat antar anahad garje

Leafbirds by Srivi Kalyan

It is indeed difficult to find one path, one approach or one perspective to describe the immensity of Kabir in my life. Even though I am not engaged with Kabir on a daily basis, or immersed in his work, I find that the influence and impact of his works on everything I do has been tremendous. It is like waves and waves of energy flowing through every space one inhabits – mind, body, room, home, street, city, soul, self, emptiness. It is almost madness and yet simply speaking what I feel is just love: pure, stark, naked and honest.

The lines that my sister and I have spent many hours moved by as children and young adults, comes back and touches our lives deeply as adults: Is ghat antar anahad garje – Can one define this soundless sound, can one describe this resonance? Can one define this relationship in oneness?

Photo courtesy: Srivi Kalyan


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Srivi Kalyan is an educator, writer, designer, illustrator and artist. She has authored, co-authored and illustrated books and stories for children and adults.. She uses arts in education to create meaningful learning experiences. She is the Founder-Director of Fooniferse Arts Pvt. Ltd (www.fooniferse.com). You can view her works on her website: www.sriviliveshere.com. She can be reached at srivi... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Srivi Kalyan is an educator, writer, designer, illustrator and artist. She has authored, co-authored and illustrated books and stories for children and adults.. She uses arts in education to create meaningful learning experiences. She is the Founder-Director of Fooniferse Arts Pvt. Ltd (www.fooniferse.com). You can view her works on her website: www.sriviliveshere.com. She can be reached at srivi... more

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  • Vedanth Bharadwaj

    Awesome! 🙂 Thank you for sharing!