Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…

Pahilaa poot pishairee maaee.
Gur laago chele kee paaee.

Ek achanbhou sunahu tumh bhaaee.
Dekhat singh charaavat gaaee

Jal kee mashulee taravar biaaee.
Dekhath kutaraa lai gee bilaaee
Talai re baisaa oopar soolaa.
Tis kai ped lage fal foolaa
Ghorai chari bhais charaavan jaaee.
Baahar bail gon ghar aaee

Kahaat Kabeer ju is pad boojhai.
Raam ramat tis sabh kish soojhai


First, the son was born, and then, his mother.
The guru falls at the feet of the disciple

Listen to this strange thing,
O Siblings of Destiny!

I saw the lion herding the cows.
The fish of the water gives birth upon a tree.
I saw a cat carrying away a dog
The branches are below, and the roots are above.
The trunk of that tree bears fruits and flowers
Riding a horse, the buffalo takes him out to graze.
The bull is away, while his load (cart) has come home

Says Kabeer, one who understands this hymn,
and comprehends the Divine words comes to understand everything.

This is a beautiful satirical poem by Bhagat Kabir, taken from Guru Granth Saheb ( the Holy Book of Sikhs), that takes me back instantly to the Hindi class of grade 10, when we read this. I recall with nostalgia of all the discussion that was triggered by the poetry. While the boys at the back benches were busy cracking various mostly crude and a few decent jokes about it, the girls in the front benches, ( that’s where they usually sit) were amused yet trying to squeeze their giggles desperately.

While the very serious Hindi teacher with a twinkle in her eyes, and mind fully immersed in Kabir was engrossed in explaining the spirit of the verses, compleltely oblivious to what was happening in front of her.

Unlike many other Hindi lessons, this poem unknowingly left ‘an impact’ strong enough to keep reading Kabir once the compulsory Hindi subject was over.

I would suggest the readers to first read the verses, it’s translation and then again the verses to get some sense of it’s meaning, and to check whether their brain thinks the way Kabir’s brain did.

The Interpretation:
The whole poem through various interesting examples, cites an open secret of our lives, so aptly described in a quote by Rousseau : “Man is born free but found in chains everywhere.”

What chains him, according to Kabir are not only the society( like Rousseau claims), but ones own hoggish desires and the pursuit of which makes him timid and fearful. And hence instead being fearless, strong yet empathetic, that man by virtue of his higher intellect is destined to be, turns into a timid, selfish and apathetic being .

Pahilaa poot pishairee maaee.
To begin with, the man was as pure as a newborn (poot), devoid of any ego. But with time, by the lure of his senses, he became ‘mother’ of (“Maaee”) ‘worldy desires’ ( the superfluous values existent in the world). Here Maee is being used with a dual meaning, both as the worldly attractions i.e. maya, and as mother.

Gur laago chele kee paaee.
Man who has the capability to be the master (Guru) of infinite knowledge, strength and empathy ( by the virtue if his intellect) becomes the disciple (chela) and bows at petty values like greed, selfishness and apathy.

Ek achanbhou sunahu tumh bhaaee.
This is an amusing contradiction, have you even seen? ( A satire on human aspirations to seek and pursue superficial values).

Dekhat singh charaavat gaaee
A man who should be fearless and strong ( as a lion) , becomes a timid grazing animal (cow), owing to protect his self interests.

Jal kee mashulee taravar biaaee.
Water is the life support of the fish, and it cannot survive without it. What if it starts to dream of living ‘high up’ on the trees. Will it be able to survive ?
So is the humanity who’s life supports are compassion, contentment, empathy and knowledge. What if they too start to fantasize for what they consider as higher pleasures ( a kin to trees) like greed, wealth or other egocentric dreams, will they be able to sustain the purpose of their existence ?

Dekhath kutaraa lai gee bilaaee
The cunning human heart ( the cat– in ‘some’ societies is considered as a cunning animal) , in lure of superficial values, has captured and held hostage the contentment, faith and bravado ( the dog) within him. ( Incidentally, in the times of Egyptian Pharoahs, dog was considered as a symbol of contentment, reliability and bravery.

Talai re baisaa oopar soolaa.
Tis kai ped lage fal foolaa
When we see the image of the tree in a lake, it appears beautiful but upside down. So is the truth of our worldly gratifications, they may appear wonderful, but they are exactly opposite of what the purpose of our existence in the world is.

Ghorai chari bhais charaavan jaaee.
Man’s desires ( as bulky as a buffalo) ride and gallop rapidly on greed ( the horse) to make the mind wander and graze the grass of one’s ego.

Baahar bail gon ghar aaee
Owing to man’s enslavement to lust and instant gratification, his patience and perseverance (bull, which is an embodiment of perseverance) has left him, instead, a cart load full of material cravings have found home in him (“gon ghar aaee”).

Kahaat Kabeer ju is pad boojhai.
Raam ramat tis sabh kish soojhai
Kabir says that whosoever comprehends the verses of this hymn, and remembers the Divine purpose of his existence frees himself from bondage.

William Wordsworth’s famous verse: “Child is the father of man.” may hold the same literal meaning, but here Wordsworth tries to explain how the childhood experiences shape the person he is when he becomes a man. In yet another interpretation,,,some say that here child is referred to as Jesus since both Child and Father are capitalised.

Perhaps in the same way, there may be more than one interpretations of the above poem. I have narrated, what my small mind, which isn’t very spiritually bent, interpreted it as.

I leave it to the readers to let their imaginations soar, and generate their own wonderful interpretations of the Kabir’s verses above.

The above salok (verses) of Sant Kabir are taken from Guru Granth Saheb ( the Holy Book of Sikhs.

Picture of Golden Temple, Amritsar  by night From the album Gateway to Heaven, by Randeep Singh.

Thanks to Naren  @froZENwell for reminding this poem and inciting me to write this blog.

Comments on: "Son comes before the mother~Kabir" (4)

  1. There was this folk song I heard, Ber chala Mera bhai by Mahesha Ram, it was kind of similar to this one. (it plays in hadh-Anhadh too) Of course, you know how folk songs change when they change hands (minds!). It is always delightful to read more Kabir, different Kabir. More Kabir means more things to think, more things to correct. More Kabir, more ways of interpreting!

    I have read a bit about this Kabir- Ulatbhaasi, upside down poetry and I must say they fascinate me so much. Recently, I heard some songs from a video in vimeo. There was a song similar to this, women without a head drawing water from a well that is not on the ground and that too without any rope, carrying it on her head and leaving…What could all this possibly mean? Why are some of the songs so seemingly meaningless? Why in the name of sweet Lord did he utter words that make no sense to us! For Kabir’s reputation of not leaving any opportunity to strike down our foolishness, these meaningless verses are a bit hard to digest!

    But then I am definite ,more than anything else, that Kabir-vani can NEVER not mean anything! The way you have explained each and every verse in this rather complicated piece is praiseworthy. But y question to you is (well, I will forever have questions when it comes to Kabir and making an attempt to understand him!) that since there can be many ways to interpret Kabir, what is the real meaning Kabir might have wanted to convey? Is there at all any real message? Is Kabir just only too smart to leave all the interpreting job to the reader? Or is he too dumb to do so? Many of us use Kabir to support our ideas and concepts, some use it to spread hate by taking literal meaning of some of his pieces, some preach (read impose) their philosophies and so on. When such is the case why did Kabir-the smart one, leave so much of void in his writings and give a “khuli choot” for his followers to distort the meaning, to twist it to suit their needs? Why?

    My comment here is less of a feedback ( :p ) and more of a question and almost all rhetoric.

    • See, Naren, I can only say what mind understands. Certainly, Kabir must have had some philosphy behind his verses, which is beyond our frame of mind to understand.

      And as for the interpretations based on one’s vested interests, even the religious scriptures havent been spared from that, what to talk of secular poetry like Kabir.

      Isnt there a saying: ‘You are what you think.” So are they who take negetive meaning out of it.

      From the simplest of Kabir dohas, it is not difficult to fathom, all his poetry was dedicated to unity, love and tolerance. So long as we are interpreting his verses on those lines, I think we are doing justice to them.

  2. Hello Ma’am,

    This salok(PanchPada – as it comprised of 5 padas) comes under Raag Aasa on Ang 481 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.
    I had read it a few times while reciting the Guru Granth Sahib and was attracted to it too.
    But could never push myself after the recital to go and look out for its meaning. (Ask the gyani ji or search on internet ).

    But , today, i chanced upon it here. Thank you so much for providing an interpretation to this salok.

  3. In my view Kabirji describes an alternate world where the imagery we are accustomed to seeing has been reversed or inverted. The vision that presents itself when we awake seems solid and consistent when in reality it is only a play of light and sound as perceived by our senses. The names and forms associated with them are mind -made or language based. The word lion conjures up the King of the jungle but for one unfamiliar with the word the has no significance. The dual world is fully of opposites and we are comfortable living with the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the evil… but we are unable to conceptualize a world where a cat bullies a dog! It is a all play of the mind and names and forms that are manifest!

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