There is a lot of clacking and howling going on these days. The triumphal volume has really jacked up several notches of late. The internet is burning hot with everyone telling everyone else the "Truth" about Osama and Obama. It’s a bloody racket.
Let’s leave the pundits, mullahs, ministers, mercenaries, killers and corpses behind for a while and listen to some real truth.
About 800 years ago high Hinduism (that type of highly ritualised religion stage-managed by the priestly Brahmins) was pretty much on the nose. Arabs and Turks and Afghans were sweeping in from the northwest mountain passes and laying the land to waste. And they claimed their victories in the name of a new God and new iman (faith) called islam.
The Hindu lords and chiefs of northern India put up some resistance but their civilisation had atrophied. It was stiff and disconnected from the people. Kingdoms fell and brahmanical Hinduism was pushed off center stage. Many people joined up with the new religion, responding more to mystical music than the sword. The northern half of the sub-continent was soon politically under the control of Muslim rulers and a massive cultural revolution was underway.
Between 1300-1550, the old Hindu religion now having to share space with sufi Islam, pushed up a mystical strain of its own. Rituals and high intellectualism were abandoned in preference to a simple devotional message that emphasised love of a personal God and condemned sectarianism, casteism and ritualism. Religion became accessible to the people again. Preachers and folk poets sprang up across northern and central India singing songs of love for Rama and Krishna. This movement is known as the bhakti movement, or Movement of Devotional Worship.
Kabir Das, was one such folk poet, itinerant preacher who is claimed by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike. His life story is the stuff of legend: born into a Hindu family but adopted by a Muslim weaver and his wife in Varanasi, Kabir, learned only to write one word, rama (God). He is believed to have lived for 120 years.
At an early age he knew his destiny was to preach the one Truth: worship and devotion to God, whether that God be called Ram or Allah or any other name. His message, like that of all iconclasts, was radical and equally dismissive of all sects and religions and their teachers, temples, mosques and ideologies. He sang songs and played a simple stringed instrument (an iktaar, perhaps?) as he travelled around the countryside preaching love of god and fellow humans.
Kabir is credited with the composition of thousands of dohas (couplets) and a huge number of bhajans (devotional hymns). These dohas have entered into popular culture and the many colloquial languages of northern India. So powerful and resonant is this poetry that a huge canon has been absorbed by Sikhs, who especially revere Kabir, into their holy scriptures. His influence is traced through and can even be summed up by the mantra of the great Indian holy man, Sai Baba: Sab ka Malik, Ek. (The Lord of All, is One).
The Washerman’s Dog presents this collection of soothing bhajans of Kabir as an antidote to the wild proclaiming and shouting that is going on ‘out there’. The set, beautifully sung by the classically trained Carnatic singer, O.S. Arun, opens with a bhajan that all partisans (of any ideology) would do well to absorb.
Na mein dharmi/nahi adharmi
Na mein kahta/ na main sunta
Neither am I religious/neither irreligious
Neither do I preach/ neither do I follow
This is music that washes over you and calms you. What more can we ask for at this time of chaos?
1. Na Mein Dharmi
2. Beet Gaye Din
3. Maan Lago
5. Hari Bolo Hari Bolo
7. Uru Rang Laga
9. Jai Jai Aarati