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Author: Winand M Callewaert
Translator(s): Winand M Callewaert / Mukund Lath
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8120806077
Namdev, who lived in the 14th century, was one of the greatest saint-poets of Maharashtra. Besides numerous songs in Marathi, tradition ascribes to him songs in Hindi too. Namdev’s Hindi songs breathe a spirit quite distinct from his Marathi compositions and are considered the oldest expressions of the Hindi nirgun strain of bhakti poetry. According to his 16th century biographer Anantdas, Namdev was the first among the nirgun greats and stood at the threshold of the remarkable religious and poetic movement which later produced men like Kabir, Raidas, Nanak and Dadu.
Almost all of the greatest Hindi nirgun poetry is riddled with problems of authenticity. The historical and scholarly quest of identifying songs which Namdev. Kabir or Raidas actually composed form out of the bewildering many that survive in their name, both in oral and written transmission, has exercised many modern minds. But no satisfactory answers are yet at hand.
Creater reliance, naturally, has been placed on written manuscripts, the earliest written collection being the Guru Granth. But as far as Namdev (also Kabir and Raidas) are concerned, the Guru Granth is clearly a selection and thus an incomplete guide.
Another store of old written materials comes mainly from Rajasthan. However, modern scholarship has yet to make full use of the earliest of this written store-house. What have been examined so far are usually later manuscripts with the usual text-critical presumption that they can lead us back to the unique and authentic version of a poet’s work.
This presumption, our study shows, is a myth. We have been able to expose this myth with the help of the rich microfilm collection of nirgun manuscripts in Leuven, Belgium (along with a suitable computer): This collection contains the earliest manuscript records of nirgun songs and has been text-critically examined here for the first time with an eye towers explaining the original Namdev.
Inescapably, we are led to the conclusion that the original must remain tantalizingly elusive . One reaches for a written record in order to escape the uncertainties of the oral. But in the earliest nirgun manuscripts, what we are faced with is the oral tradition itself which we had hoped to escape through the written. The earlier nirgun manuscripts are records of oral repertoires as they stood in the 16th century. These were repertoires transmitted by organized bands of musicians whose records were essentially oral, as they still area. The repertoires are interconnected and our study is an attempt at examining the interrelations between these repertoires with a view to arriving at an oral stemma and drawing significant text-critical clues from the fact that the transmission was in a musical tradition, which is different in important ways from the poetic. In our study, history of poetry accosts the history of music, long neglected in such studies.
We have also made an English translation of a select number of Namdev’s songs, those that we consider as belonging to the oldest strata. But we have not really taken sides in this matter and our collection contains all of Namdev’s available Hindi songs which we have noted with pathabhedas.
An Authentic biography of Namdev presents as many problems as his songs. We have tabulated a detailed picture of how his biography has grown with time acquiring more and more hagiographic details till in the modern period, with a growth of the taste for the historical, it also began to acquire a historical visage.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS / EDITORS:
DR WINAND M CALLEWAERT is a professor of Indian studies at the Katholieke Universities, Leuven, Belgium. He holds degrees in Hindi, Sanskrit, Philosophy and History from Ranchi, Banaras, Pune and Leuven. After long periods of study and research in India, he now focuses his attention on sant literature in Hindi of which he has also made a most outstanding collection containing the oldest available manuscripts on microfilm.
Besides numerous research articles he has published important works of Rajab. Dadu an on the Bhagavad Gita.
After a B A (Hons) in English Literature and A PhD in Sanskrit, DR MUKUND LATH teaches history at the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. His A Study of Dattilam, is an in-depth exploration of one of the ancient most Indian texts on music and is considered a landmark in musicology. He is also the author of Ardhakathanka: Half A Tale, a translation and study of the first pre-modern autobiography in an Indian languages.
DO WE KNOW NAMDEV?
The Namdev Parcai of Anantadas
MUSICIANS AND SCRIBES
Pad literature in musical performance
Bhajan singing in the Bhakti milieu
Manuscripts with Namdev’s padas
The Misra: 1964 edition
The Guru Granth
The musical collections
The non Pancavani Mss., u, c and j
The puzzle of the variants
Orthography in the manuscripts
The computer counts the variants
Analysis of the computer results
Hindi songs of Namdev (table I)
Table II: sigla only
Selection of songs for translation
THE SONGS IN ENGLISH
THE SONG IN HINDI
First line index
Alphabetical first line index
Detailed analysis of the geyavikaras
Namdev Parcai: Word-index