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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Rasa and Ramya in Kabir: The place of delight in Nirgun Bhakti

The second  part of  the Yoga samvad series presented by Ritambhara,  in which film maker and  singer Shabnam Virmani  explores the evocations of amrit ras or the subtle sublime dimensions of joy or ecstasy  as evoked in the poetry of Kabir. Read first part here


That Creator spread out a game of delight/  With one sound, the universe arose
Earth delight, sky delight/ Moon, sun, all radiance delight
Origin, middle and end, delight/ In delight, arose all the stars
Delight the darkness, delight the Light/Delight the ocean, its surging waves
Delight creation, its water way/The Doer is one, all the rest is play
This pain of dying, this coming to life/A play.
All our leavings and partings/  A play.
All our returnings and meetings / A play.
The people of this world are so lost in this play/They don’t see the Grand Master
Who’s spread out the game.

-The poetry of Kabir, translated by Shabnam Virmani

In  Kabir’s poetry rasa is the taste one derives from the crushing, breaking, grinding, the pain, the sorrow of samsara or the endless cycles of births and  deaths.  None of the distillates he is speaking about are possible without some kind of pain; some kind of crushing; some kind of dissolution; some kind of breakdown.

Kabir speaks about the redness that is latent in the heart of the  henna leaf. But how is it going to be achieved or manifest? How will you see that redness? That’s possible only by the crushing of the  henna leaf—by it grinding and pasting. Only through that.

Another image Kabir and many of the Bhakti poets evoke is that of the moti or  the jewel that is to be found in the bowels of the earth and it takes shape under intense pressure and heat. The diamond isn’t easily created. It is intense pressure and heat that leads to its clarified consciousness, where the light passes through. And this is equally an image  that is found in the clarified nature of milk or butter because then the light goes through—it is not opaque.

Such a purification or clarification of our spirit is possible only through this manthan or churning.  There is no short cutting this pain. Shabnam Virmani sang a song she had learnt from Mahesha Ramji, a folk singer from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, which speaks of an idea of this essence.

Aisa aisa heerala ghatam kahiye johar bina rakon  paar ke

There are such jewels in this body self/but without the gaze of a jeweller, who will find them?

There is so much ghee in this milk consciousness. But without churning it, how will the butter emerge?

Aisi aisi aag lakdi ma kahiye /ghasiye bina aag kaise nikale .

The idea of  chafing of the wood to make fire in its belly manifest. The locks on your heart, without a guru, who will  open them?  Once you find this Ram, who can harm you?  This Ram is to be found in your heart/So why wander outside?

Thus, the idea of turning inwards from outward seeking senses. Something that churns within us and makes this taste of ami ras or ram ras possible.

The root of the word ami ras is a-mrit  or deathlessness. In Kabir’s universe, rasa is evoked in the taste of death or deathlessness—in the taste of letting go; in the taste of coming unstuck.  Kabir says:

mein mera ghar jhadiyan /liyo palita haath/koi  ghar jaare aapno. Chale hamare saath./ ram ras piyo amar ho jaye.

I burnt down my home/the torch is blazing in my hand/ you want to walk with me?/ Then burn yours to the ground/ This  is the taste of Ram/a nectar incredibly sweet/ the spectre of death dissolves/Drink it and you are free.

This taste of freedom; freedom from coming and going; freedom form cycles of birth and death; freedom from cycles of clinging and losing is the taste of ram ras, which grants you deathlessness in the here and now.  The thirst for ami ras is unquenchable.  There is a delight in confronting death; in confronting impermanence  and that’s the taste Kabir incites us to partake and develop.  Although it may sound strange, it is nevertheless clear that when we own things with the delusion of permanence, we don’t  truly taste them.  But when things that we own—people, relationships, assets— are constantly shot through with a sense of impermanence, we begin to taste them; we come into the present moment  because that’s all we have!

That’s when less becomes more; that when dullness turns to delight . Kabir expresses this delight  through a deeply material aesthetics.  His images are of beauty and fragility at the same time.  His images abound with metaphors for the making and breaking of things. For instance, the beautiful clay pot that makes such an unforgettable sound, will also shatter.  The bead necklace, so beautiful, shall also  snap.  The tambura that makes this gorgeous sound shall meet with dust. He speaks of the body as a tender bud blossom of the kachnar tree and even a bag of skin!

So, all these images of delight in this life; in this body are an apprehension of beauty and fragility in the same breath.  It is the shadow of a cloud; a trembling water bubble; a drop of dew—all images of deep delight are shot through with apprehension of death. And that delight emerges when you know it is not there for too long –and therefore you receive it as a gift with a  sense of wonder.

Moderating the session, Shri Raghu Ananthanarayanan highlighted the several overlaps between  Kabir’s poetry and the Yoga Sutras. Drawing a parallel to Shabnam Virmani’s use of the word signal, he said there are very important words in the Yoga Sutra. In other words, that which you have to seek, is beyond linga (form) and beyond alinga (formlessness) also.  Although one can signal, it’s beyond any signalling.

Shabnam Virmani’s immersive performance of music and songs led by inspired rendition highlighted a seeker’s sacred quest to see the  unfolding of life in a panoramic  canvas that was all  about possibility, expansion and inter relatedness.


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Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera. 

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