कबीर Kabir: “Of the Musk Deer”: 15th-century Hindi poems


Kabir (144o-1518)

Of the Musk Deer


Musk lies in the musk deer’s own nave,

But roam in the forest he does – it to seek;

Alike, God pervades heart to heart,

But men of the world this don’t conceive.


In man himself the Master dwells,

But man, deluded, knows not this,

So similar to the musk deer who

Again and again the grass sniffs.


The seeker of Ram*, says Kabir,

To the Singhal Island** did march;

When in himself he was convinced,

He found that Ram pervaded his heart.


God exists, profuse, in each place,

So don’t think He’s less here and more there,

Those who say He’s far – He is far,

Those who know Him near – He’s near.


I knew God to be far away,

But He is ubiquitous – here and there;

Thou didst know Him to be far off,

He’s far off though very near.


* Ram, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, and

the central character of the Ramayana epic

** Today known as Sri Lanka




Of the Virtueless


It drizzled in graceful drizzles,

On the stone fell showers of rain,

Soil melted when it got watered,

But the stone showed no mark of change.


Of Thinking


Who utters as wells forth the tongue

Without thinking what he doth say,

Holding the sword of his tongue in hand

The souls of others he doth slay.



Of Contentment


Cow-rich, elephant-rich, horse-rich,

And rich treasures of precious stones,

All those riches are like the dust

Until to man contentment comes.



Of the Middle


If I say I’m Hindu, I’m not,

Nor as well a Muslim I’m,

An effigy of five elements

– in me plays the spark divine.


It’s not good in excess to speak,

Nor good in excess to keep mum,

To rain in excess is not good,

Nor good an excess of sun.



Of Pardon


Pardon suits the magnanimous,

One who is low mischiefs befit;

Speak!  In what way did Vishnu lose

When Bhrigu a kick did Him hit?


Where there’s mercy there’s religion;

Where there’s avarice there’s sin;

Where there is anger there is Death,

Where there’s pardon there God dwells in.



Kabir was born in 1440 in Lahartara (modern-day Varanasi), on the sacred Ganges River of India.

His mother, a Brahmin widow, had given birth to him long past the death of her husband – hence she

was socially disgraced.  She left her new-born in some shrubs where he was discovered and adopted by

Neema and Neeru, a Muslim couple who were weavers.

Kabir became a disciple of Ramananda, who revered Vishnu as one of the Forms of God.

But as his devotion to poetry grew hand in hand with the breadth of his religious education,

Kabir worked out his own distinctive spirituality, drawing upon both Hinduism and Islam,

and bringing together what is essential in each faith.

Biographer Evelyn Underhill wrote that upon Kabir’s death in 1518 ” his Muslim and Hindu disciples disputed the possession of his body;  which the Muslims wished to bury, the Hindus to burn.  As they argued together, Kabir appeared before them, and told them to lift the shroud and look at that which lay beneath.  They did so, and found in the place of the corpse a heap of flowers, half of which were buried by the Muslims at Maghar, and half carried by the Hindus to the holy city of Benares to be burned – fitting conclusion to a life which had made fragrant the most beautiful doctrines of two great creeds. ”

Poems translated from Hindi into English by Mohan Singh Karki