Akath Kahani Prem ki takes a look at the times Kabir lived in, a time that is good five centuries away from us. It is a time that is seen through the imagination of those who chose to write about Kabir and whatever they could gather from his poetry. A lot of these lenses also belong to our times, where we imagine the society was similar in his times. We assume that everyone was poor forgetting that it was 19th CE that led us to the level of poverty where people died of hunger. We also assume that if people did not have access to modern luxuries, they were poor. This book taught me that to understand a poet’s work, it is equally important to understand his time and his surroundings.
I have been studying Kabir for many years now. He is the poet and saint; I most connect with. I have read many books on him besides his original works like his Bijak. Purushottam Agarwal is a reputed scholar on Kabir, so I had to read this book. I was expecting another interpretation of Kabir’s poetry, but what I received was a much wider canvas. He assumes that you know about Kabir’s works, at least the major themes of his work. He one by one picks the popular misconceptions surrounding life, time, and works of Kabir and demystifies them. I would take the liberty to say, I see the basic Baniya Buddhi flowing through his arguments.
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He demolishes the fact that Kabir belonged to a marginalized class because today we see weavers as a marginalized class. The author tells us that Kabir was a weaver and a trader who visited the markets to sell his cloth. He talks about his peer group, his Guru Bhais, and what they said about him. From various of their works and Kabir’s own works, he puts light on aspects that have not really been studied together. In the process, the book also introduced to me many works like ‘Anantdas ki Parichai’ that first wrote about Kabir and his works, good 70 years after he passed away.
I love what he says about the two popular versions of Indian Truth. People who think all problems in India came with the invaders think that we are not capable of creating any problems ourselves. Secondly, people with a very western mindset, think that we had all the problems till they arrived to solve them all. We are not capable of solving our own problems. The truth obviously lies in between – some problems always exist in any society. And every society is capable of solving its own problems. In fact, when viewed from the outside, the problems can seem very different. Or sometimes may come solely from the perception of the viewer.
Read More – Kabir by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi
Lineage of Kabir’s tradition
The book looks at the lineage of Kabir’s tradition. This is the first time I learned that Kabir followed Shakta tradition for many years, before moving on to Nath Panthis and Sufis and finally choosing Naradi Bhakti as his path to pursue. In ‘Akath Kahani Prem Ki’, Purushottam Agrawal shows you the influences of these traditions in Kabir’s poetry to make his point. So, he experienced various paths before he said – Naradi Bhakti, Magan Sarira. In fact, he categorically says the Bhakti as defined by Narada, as there are many more Bhakti Sutras written by different sages. Both Narada and Kabir acknowledge and (in my opinion) respect the Vedas and knowledge therein, but they are not bound by it. They put Bhakti that comes with its dose of Karma and Gyan.
Read More – Kabira Khada Bazaar Mein by Bhisham Sahni
I have recently read the Narada Bhakti Sutras. Understanding the Bhakti as defined in it, helped me understand Kabir a lot better. I can see glimpses of his Bhakti Sutra in his Bani. But that is a topic for another day in my Kahat Kabir series.
The book also addresses topics like – if Kabir was literate or not? If he really abhorred Kashi or was he just trying to prove his point? Was he trying to start a new religion? Was he the bridge between Hindus and Muslims as the modern-day interpreters like to project him? Or, was he a saint or just a poet who wrote what he experienced? Did he look down upon women, then why did he take the form of a woman in his own poetry? I liked his comparison with women poet-saints like Mira Bai or Andal who never had to look down upon men to focus on their Bhakti.
Read More – Who is Kabir?
This was an immensely educating book for me. It not just taught a lot about Kabir but also a wide-angle through which one needs to see the works of a poet like Kabir. I am looking forward to other works by the author.
The book is not for beginners on Kabir. It expects you to know his poetry and some background at least. So keep that in mind when you pick it up.