Kabir (c. 1440–1518), the North Indian devotional or bhakti poet, was born in Benares (now Varanasi) and lived in the fifteenth century. Next to nothing is known of his life, though many legends surround him. He is said to have been a weaver, and in his resolutely undogmatic and often riddling work he debunks both Hinduism and Islam. The songs of this extraordinary poet, philosopher, and satirist, who believed in a personal god, have been sung and recited by millions throughout North India for half a millennium.
“Listen carefully,/Neither the Vedas/Nor the Qur’an/Will teach you this…” So begins a poem by Kabir, the legendary mystic who drew on the varied traditions of mediaeval India to create some of the most lasting verses in world literature. Indian poet and literary critic Arvind Krishna Mehrotra here offers new translations and scholar Wendy Doniger places them in historical context.