Kabir Dohe

The following is a set of dohās (Hindi rhyming couplets) by the great 15th century Indian weaver, poet, and revolutionary philosopher, Kakabirbir. Kabir shows us the ability of the common man to produce art and music that emerges from but also transcends his material conditions, and presents a vision of a society based on love, selflessness and empathy.

Kabir dohās present the wisdom of Kabir. They are recited in North India as part of an oral tradition of metaphors and idioms, and used in everyday conversation.

The DUA collective presents a translation that aims to understand Kabir’s poetry as part of the spiritual strivings of a people for a better world.
__________________________________________________________


Original Hindi
सब आया एक ही घाट से, उतरा एक ही बाट
बीच में दुविधा पड़ गयी, हो गए बारह बाट
~
घाटे पानी सब भरे, अवघट भरे न कोय
अवघट घाट कबीर का, भरे सो निर्मल होए
~
कहाँ से आया कहाँ जाओगे
खबर करो अपने तन की
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
English Translation
Everyone came from one ghāṭ, all walked down the same path
Along the way a dilemma arose, one became twelve
~
Everyone fills from a ghāṭ, nobody fills from the non-ghāṭ
The non-ghāṭ ghāṭ is the ghat of Kabir, the one who fills there becomes pure
~
Where did we come from, where will we go
Be aware of your own body
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Interpretation
In India, a ghāṭ (घाट) is a series of steps that lead into the water. It is where people bathe, wash their clothes, and offer prayers. Ghāṭs are often separated by caste, religion, and other social divisions. By declaring that everyone comes from the same ghāṭ, Kabir is saying that everyone is born the same way; we are all human beings and face the same basic existential and material questions.

The word “duvidhā” (दुविधा) means “duality.” Kabir is talking about the contradictions that arise between people and within each person. Along the path of history, people were divided into false categories, and the oneness of humanity was forgotten. “Bārah bāṭ” literally means twelve ways, but is commonly used to refer to a state of confusion. Kabir is saying that humanity is lost as long as it is divided.

The second verse says that everyone draws water that is defined by boundaries, but nobody draws from the water that is limitless. The word “avghaṭ” (अवघट) means “difficult,” but also signifies that which is without bounds. Kabir is talking about how everyone exists in the world as defined by society; they are attached to and bound by identity and ego. Rather than see these definitions for the chimeras they are, we become attached to them. To fill from the limitless non-ghāṭ of Kabir is to transcend definitions—social and spiritual. It is to see yourself in others and others in yourself.
When Kabir says, “where do we come from, where are we going,” he is conveying the truth that we are all born into a body that will eventually decay. To know this is to be constantly aware of your mortality and the futility of attachment to things that are not constant.

As black American author James Baldwin writes:
“It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant—birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so—and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths—change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not—safety for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope—the entire possibility of freedom disappears.”
The same chimeras, reconfigured by the course of history, face humanity today—as they did in the time of Kabir. Only when we can truly understand that humanity is one can we shed our egos. The struggle to make a new world where everyone can live full lives leads us to humility and revolutionary suicide.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s