ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Kabir and the Question of Modernity

Kabir, Kabir: The Life and Work of the Early Modern Poet-Philosopher by Purushottam Agrawal, Chennai: Westland Publications, 2021; pp 284, `499.

Kabir, the famous religious poet of Varanasi, lived from roughly 1440 CE to 1518 CE. He first became well-known outside of India in 1915 when Rabindranath Tagore published an English translation of 100 songs, or bhajans, att­ri­buted to Kabir. Tagore’s translation was based on a collection prepared by the scholar Kshitimohan Sen from various sources. More recent academic studies of Kabir essentially begin with the analysis of his religious ideas made by P D Barthwal and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi in the 1930s and the 1940s. These studies helped initiate a search for old manuscripts containing collections of Kabir’s songs (pad or shabda) and couplets (sakhi) in early Hindi, with the idea that these texts were more likely to be compositions by the historical Kabir, or at least gave a better idea of ideas ass­oci­ated with Kabir. The main early coll­ections were the Kabir Granthavali of the Dadu Panth of Rajasthan, the Adi Granth of the Sikhs, and the Kabir Bijak of the Kabir Panth. All these texts now have scholarly editions in Hindi and (for all but parts of the Granthavali) English translations.

Since the 1960s, many studies about Kabir and his followers have been pub­lished in Hindi, English, and other languages. Most of these studies have been written for an academic audience or for educated followers of the Kabir Panth and the Sikh Panth. Purushottam Agrawal has broken with this tradition by writing a book about Kabir in English directed to an audience that includes not only academics but also a wider educated public. Agrawal’s academic credentials are not in doubt. He has published scholarly ­essays on Kabir in both Hindi and English and an essential book in Hindi titled Akath Kahani Prem ki: Kabir ki Kavita aur Unka Samay (2009).

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Updated On : 14th May, 2022
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