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Kabir Legends and Ananta-das's Kabir Parachai.

David Lorenzen has rescued from obscurity the collection of legends about Kabir which Ananta-das wrote towards the end of the sixteenth century. This short hagiographic work is the earliest known collection of stories concerning Kabir and for that reason alone it commands a substantial importance. It communicates very little concerning the actual biography of Kabir, but in Lorenzen's view it is important in that it helps us to trace the historical evolution of the Kabir legends.

The book begins with three chapters devoted to the legends of Kabir. In the first of these Lorenzen considers the references to the Baghel dynasty and their value in helping to determine the dates of Kabir. These dates, he maintains, can almost certainly be located in the late fifteenth century and the early sixteenth. He also considers the belief that Kabir was a disciple of Ramananda and argues that the claim can probably be sustained. The third and fourth chapters examine the actual legends, first those recorded in the Kabir Parachai and then those from other sources. These are valuable not for Kabir's own lifetime but for the light which they cast on the various concerns of their later authors.

Chapter 4 is an important one as in it Lorenzen argues why he has chosen to reproduce an edited version of the Niranjani-panthi text rather than the Dadu-panthi alternative. The latter certainly exists in the oldest extant manuscript (dated s. 1693 or A.D. 1636), but several reasons are given why a Niranjani-panthi text has been constructed. A text has been assembled using as a base text a manuscript dated s. 1843 (A.D. 1786) together with five others of the Niranjani-panthi tradition and two from the Dadu-panth. The Niranjani-panthi recension is superior to the Dadu-panthi one because:

(1) the claims of this recension to historical priority are no less convincing than those of the Dadu Panthi recension; (2) the Niranjani Panthi is superior in the sense that it is generally more consistent in terms of narrative logic and theology; and (3) the presence of the disputed first section in the Niranjani Panthi recension gives it a greater "genealogical" importance in the sense that the presence of this section strongly suggests that this recension was the source for Priya-das's commentary on Nabha-das's verse on Kabir and, through this commentary, the source of most post-Priya-das versions of the legends. (p. 81)

These claims are argued in chapter 4, together with a presentation of the interesting difference between the two recensions in terms of their attitude towards the nirgun and sagun conceptions of the Absolute. The Dadu-panthi recension assumes a nirgun conviction, whereas the Niranjani-panthi view is that the two conceptions are really the same.

The remainder of the volume comprises a complete translation of a Niranjani-panthi version of the Kabir Parachai, followed by the devanagari edition of the text which Lorenzen has constructed. Both sections are extensively footnoted, including in the notes to the translation all the important variant readings of the Dadu-panthi recension. Finally there is an appendix which supplies the s. 1693 text of the Dadu-panthi recension, with footnotes limited to scribal mistakes and to parallels with the Kabir-granthavali.

The introductory chapters dealing with the Kabir legends are certainly interesting, particularly the first one which claims a Kabir dating in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth century. The arguments presented for this period carry distinct weight and Lorenzen is certainly persuasive in arguing them. He is rather less persuasive when it comes to establishing that Kabir was a disciple of Ramananda and this reviewer must confess that he retains his skepticism.

The attempt is nevertheless well worth making and the book performs a useful function in insisting that we should look once again at such questions. One issue which is covered too rapidly is that of the history of the Niranjani-panth and the Dadu-panth. Many readers will have their interest whetted by the frequent references to the two panths, but will feel that they have been told too little about them. Another point (strictly of subordinate concern and of no importance to the author's argument) is that the author is slightly astray on the date of Guru Nanak's death (1539, not 1538).

The most insistent issue, however, is a hovering question mark. Lorenzen is well aware of this and makes its presence perfectly clear. As he explains in his preface, much of the research was carried out in conjunction with Dr. Winand Callewaert of the Catholic University in Leuven, but the two of them elected to go their separate ways when they were unable to agree on which text to use. Should it be the Dadu-panthi recension (as Callewaert maintains) or should it be the Niranjani-panthi version? Lorenzen holds the view that their respective editions of the two recensions should properly be regarded as complementary rather than mutually contradictory; and we must await the publication of Callewaert's critical edition before we can make a judgment concerning the arguments which Lorenzen has advanced in his. In the meantime this book provides us with valuable material concerning the corpus of Kabirean legends and for that we can be truly grateful.
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Author:McLeod, W.H.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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