Kabir:The Weaver's Songs

About this text

Introductory notes

Kabir(1398-1448) is a North Indian devotional poet, who was born in Banaras and was active in the fifteenth century. His corpus of work has a complex textual history with innumerable manuscripts and variants of poems and aphorisms. According to Vinay Dharwadker, thereare three different schools of manuscript-traditions pertainingto Kabir's work, the Nanak Panth (northern), Dadu Panthi(western)and the Kabir Panth. His work survives in various languages-Braj Bhasha, Avadhi, Bhojpuri, Rajasthani, Khadi Boli, Punjabi besides showing traces of Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic elements.

Our selection here is from "Kabir:The Weaver's Songs", translated by Vinay Dharwadker.

Primary Reading Kabir:The Weaver's Songs, trans.Vinay Dharwadker, (Navi Mumbai: Penguin Books India, 2003)


The Weaver's Songs



[Page 114]


Madhav, sweet lord,
how will I ever be
in Your blessed company?
If You're a niggard,
I'll have to beg
for your gracious gifts.
Don't starve Your devotee:
take back this rosary of Yours.
I only ask for the dust
of the saints' feet
I don't wish to be
an object of someone's charity
All I want is a couple of pounds
of ground wheat,
a quarter pound of ghee,
some salt to go with it:
that'll suffice
for survival twice a day.
All I need is a cot
with four legs,
a pillow, a mattress.
I ask for a coarse sheet
to cover me:
You'll have my adoration.
[Page 115]
I haven't been covetous.
I've heaped ostentation
on just one thing: Your Name.
Kabir says, I've convinced
my heart to be content:
for when the heart's content,
it comprehends Hari.


[Page 124]


Tell me, O pandit,
what place is pure-
where I can sit
and eat my meal?
Mother was impure,
father was impure-
the fruits they bore
were also impure.
They arrived impure,
they left impure-
unlucky folks,
they died impure.
My tongue's impure,
my words are impure,
my ears, my eyes,
they're all impure-
you brahmins,
you've stolen the fire,
but you can't burn off
the impurity of the senses!
The fire, too, is impure,
the water's impure-
so even the kitchen's
nothing was impure.
The ladle's impure
that serves a meal,
[Page 125]
and they're impure
who sit and eat their fill.
Cowdung's impure,
the bathing-square's impure-
its very curbs
are nothing but impure.
Kabir says,
only they are pure
who've completely cleansed
their thinking.


[Page 126]


This is the house you're in,
this is where you search
and eat what you find-
don't go visiting
someone else's house.
Your gait is like
the ambling gait of a cow-
you have a tail,
its tuft of hair
has a slick sheen.
You pick at the floor
left behind in the grinding mill,
you lick the stone clean-
where are you sneaking off with that rag
meant to wipe the mortar?
Your gaze is fixed
on the cooking pot.
Don't stare-
you'll get the short end
of a stick or club on your back.
[Page 127]
Kabir says,
you're very well fed.
Don't devour any more-
someone might brain you
with a brick or stone.


[Page 142]

The Love of King Rama

Dear heart,
don't do a thing
if you haven't worshipped
King Rama.
People hear the words
of the Vedas and the Puranas
and begin to nurse their hopes
for the fruits of action.
All these enlightened people
are absorbed in the moment,
but they blame
the learned priests
for their disappointments.
The ascetic withdraws
into the forest
to master his senses
and feeds on roots and stems.
So do all those shamans,
singers, scholars and saints
whose lives are written down
on plaque and parchment
but it doesn't make
a jot of difference.
[Page 143]
This one is thin and penniless.
he wraps his loins
in a loincloth-
but the love of God
that Narad had
hasn't touched his heart or mind.
That one sits
singing holy songs
with great self-satisfaction-
but what God has he seen
or recognized?
Time and death
hack away at the world,
yet everyone describes himself
as a true seer within.
Kabir says
the only man
who serves a single master
is the one who knows
the love of Rama.


[Page 161]

The Simple State

you saints-
I see that the world
is crazy.
When I tell the truth,
people run
to beat me up-
when I tell lies,
they believe me.
I've seen
the pious ones,
the ritual mongers-
they bathe at dawn.
They kill the true Self
and worship rocks-
they know nothing.
I've seen
many masters and teachers-
they read their Book,
their Qur'an.
They teach many students
their business tricks-
that's all they know.
[Page 162]
They sit at home
in pretentious poses-
their minds are full
of vanity.
They begin to worship
brass and stone-
they're so proud
of their pilgrimages,
they forget the real thing.
They wear caps and beads
they paint their bows
with the cosmetics
of holiness.
They forget the true words
and the songs of witness
the moment they've sung them-
they haven't heard
the news of the Self.
The Hindu says
Rama's dear to him,
the Muslim says it's Rahim.
They go to war
and kill each other-
no one knows
the secret of things.
[Page 163]
They do their rounds
from door to door
selling their magical formulas-
they're vain
about their reputations.
All the students
will drown with their teachers-
at the last moment
they'll repent.
Kabir says,
you saintly men,
forget all this vanity.
I've said it so many times
but nobody listens-
you must merge into
the simple state


[Page 175]
Don't be vain, Kabir:
you're just a wrapping of skin on bone.
Even those who ride on horses, under parasols,
are buried quickly in the mud.


[Page 205]


Rainclouds gather and darken
in the sky, O sadhu,
the rainclouds gather
and darken.
This string of clouds
has risen in the east:
the rain comes down,
Secure the dams around your farms,
each to his own:
the water's overflowing
with force.
Put the bulls
of Love and Detachment to work:
plough, plough
the field of nirvana.
The man who comes home,
harvest and husking done,
he's the happy farmer
with real skill
With equal servings
on their plates,
both sage and scholar
eat their fill.


[Page 208]

Don't Stay

Don't stay-
the land's a wildnerness.
This world's a paltry paper packet-
a spot of rain
will wash it away.
This world's a garden of thorns
snarled and shared,
we'll perish in pain.
This world's all tree and tinder-
kindled, it will roast us
like sacrificial victims.
Kabir says, listen, my good men,
the True Master's name
is our lasting abode-
our station, our destination.
This is a selection from the original text


ascetic, ghee, greed, harvest, poverty, rain, salt, wheat

Source text

Title: Kabir

Subtitle: The Weaver's Songs

Author: Kabir

Editor(s): Vinay Dharwadker

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication date: 2003

Original compiled c.1398-1448

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Navi Mumbai

Provenance/location: Original compiled c.1398-1448

Digital edition

Original author(s): Kabir

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) page 114 to 115
  • 2 ) page 124 to 125
  • 3 ) page 126 to 127
  • 4 ) page 142 to 143
  • 5 ) page 161 to 163
  • 6 ) page 175
  • 7 ) page 205
  • 8 ) page 208


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > poetry

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.