Friday, February 1, 2008

Poetry Friday

I hope you enjoyed last Friday's haikus. Isn't it marvelous how poetry can condense the loftiest of thoughts into a couple of lines? This tradition of "economical poetry" is not confined to Japan. A number of other cultures have a tradition of poetry in the form of couplets, where the entire sentiment is expressed in just a couple of (usually rhyming) sentences.

Today's poetry is couplets by Rahim and Kabir, two famous Indian Sufi saints. Their couplets, or "dohas" (literally, two line verses), are a standard part of the Hindi language curriculum in Indian schools.

As with all poetry, something is lost in translation, nevertheless their pithy wisdom and philosophical nature shines through. In true Sufi tradition, Rahim and Kabir also rejected ostentatious displays of religiousness and believed in the oneness of God.

Rahim's couplets always included his name in some form- Rahim says...

Rahim says, Don't discard the small things when you encounter big ones
After all, what use is a sword to do the work of a needle?

Rahim says, When a person possesses a lofty spirit, how can bad company harm him?
Though the snake drapes itself around the sandalwood tree, the sandalwood does not become poisonous.

Rahim says, Don't break the cord of love with a harsh tug
For once broken, it can't be mended; and a knot will always remain.

Kabir's background is unique in that he was born to Hindu brahmins but raised by Muslim weavers. To this day he embodies the secular spirit, and the name Kabir may be given to Hindu and Muslim boys alike. According to legend, when Kabir died, his Hindu and Muslim followers squabbled over whether to cremate or bury his body. When his shroud was removed, all they found was a mound of flowers. The Hindus cremated half and the Muslims buried the other half.

Kabir's couplets are sharply derisive of the caste system and established religion.

This world has gone to hell by reading so many books, yet nobody became a pundit (scholar).
The one who has read the 2 1/2 letters of love is the true pundit.
(The Hindi word for love, "Prem", consists of 2 1/2 letters)

Don't ask the wise man about his caste, ask him about his knowledge,
Do you judge the sharpness of a sword by looking at its scabbard?

If I could find God by worshipping this stone, why, I would worship a mountain!
Better than this stone idol is a humble millstone, for it feeds the world.

Look, they have gathered rocks and pebbles and built this big mosque
And the mullah inside is yelling at the top of his voice, has God become deaf?

Have a great weekend!


Deb said...

Lovely - thank you for sharing them!!

CathyCate said...

Deepa, I hope I actually get to meet you (and your lovely daughter, whose photo Deb S showed me!)some day!

I very much enjoyed the poetry and the blog. Thanks for sharing.

(La Crosse knitter)