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The Hindi Padavali of Namdev (An Old and Rare Book)

The Hindi Padavali of Namdev (An Old and Rare Book)
Item Code: NAU322
Author: Winand M. Callewaert and Mukund Lath
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1989
ISBN: 9788120806078
Pages: 430
Other Details: 9.00 X 6.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.54 kg
About the Book

Namdev, Who lived in the 14th century , was one of the gratest saint-poets of Maharashtra. Besides Numerous songs in Marathi, tradition ascriber to him songs in Hindi too. Namdev’s Hindi songs Breathe a spirit quite distinct from his Marathi compositions and are considered the oldest expression Of the Hindi nirgun strain of bhakti poerty. Accroding to the 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 greatest Hindi Nirgun poetry is riddle with problem of authenticity. The historical And Scholarly quest of identifying songs which Namdev. Kabir or Raidas actually from out of the Bewildering manythat survive in their name both in oral and written transmission, has exercised many modern Minds. But no satisfactory answer are yet at hand.

Greater reliance, naturally, has been placed on written mansuscripts, 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 show, 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 explaining The original Namdev.

Insecapably, we are led to the conclusion that the original must remain tantailsingly 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 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 reertoise transmitted by organized bands of musicians whose record were essentially Oral as they still are. 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 song . 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 present 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 Author

Dr. Winand M. Callewaert is a professor of Indian studies at the katholieke Universirties. Leuven. Belgium. He holds degrees in Hindi, Sanskrit, Philiosphy and History from Ranchi, Banaras, Pune and Leuven. After Long periods of study and research in India, he now focused his attention on sant literature in Hindi of Containing the oldest available manuscripts on microfilm. Besides numerous research articles he has published important works of Rajab , Dabu and on the Bhagavad Gita.


This book. does not give the answers some may be looking for. It is not definitive about Namdev’s date and place of birth or of his samadhi,, about the exact number of poems sung by him (in Hindi), or about ‘his’ language, when and if he. travelled through North India. Perhaps we should not.even be interested in these facts, convinced that. the grapes. aresour.

Very illuminating, however, is the historical ‘exercise’ presented in Chapter 1. Starting with a brief enumeration of miracles in the earliest written source (Anantad4s:1588), the hagiographical writings eventually mention. his exact date of. birth (Singh:1906).and even give a description. of his previous birth (Marathi abhanga 1245). Of course, there is one ‘early’ source which cannot be properly classified in our chronological list: the Marathi abhangas attributed to Namdev and his servant- disciple,. Janabai (edited in Avate:1908, or even earlier in Tatya:1894). If all. abhafgas relating. to Namdev’s life were also composed by him, we would be out of the. woods. But most abhangas probably. are not; quite a few. certainly are not. Till we. see a critical edition of the Marathi abhafgas, we cannot date the information found in them. . We. suggest ‘that there is a relation between the oral tradition from which Mahipati:1762 drew his information and the period when, e.g., the Tirthavali was written. But that remains a challenging topic for ma- nuscript hunters and text-editors.

The personality of Namdev has constantly eluded us, from the day we. started to copy manuscripts with his Hindi poems in 1973, through our initiation period into the computer age in 1980, up to the. present when 125. poems .are. presented. in English translation, selected from: our. critical edition of 258.poems. Seventy-five poems are not even critically edited, because they occur only in the Guru Granth (36) or only in one manuscript .

In. Chapters 2 and 3 we.describe the Rajasthani manuscripts in which we found the 258 :Hindi poems attributed to.Namdev. Even if we do: not go. beyond this question of attribution ‘to Namdev’,:around 1600 , AD when the.scribal tradition started, we do get close to early musical. repertoires. Relying.on our feeling for the way in which musical | repertoires were handled and on a mathematical analysis: made by the computer, we selected’ poems which we know. were certainly popular around 1550 AD and probably even before that.

This was only the. first thrill in the. often dreary task of editing the texts: we caught; scribes tampering with the text as well as musicians. adjusting the lines to their mood, genius or audience. And in the forest of doubts in all books about Namdev, we know this for certain: the poems attributed to Namdev in the manuscripts (dated-1582 AD and later), have not survived unchanged during the 250 years of musical transmission. The variants we find in the manuscripts are to a great extent musical, and often of minor importance. And, the mixture of both musical and scribal variants make all attempts to construct a classical stemma futile. Note that in the discussion about rdagas, ramkali and raémgiri, gaud and gund are identical.

We give in Chapter 4 a selection of 125 poems in English translation. Specialists have read in Namdev’s Hindi poems the experience of a mature mystic, who "must have come to the Panjab at a later age". We see in them some of the earliest Hindi bhakti poetry, sung in Rajasthan and Panjab. These songs greatly influenced later trends and poets, including Kabir. When, in the Dadipanth, there was a need to -go back to the sources and the idea of a Paficavdni came up, it was Namdev who was presented as the earliest poet. This mystical poetry is now for the first time available in English translation, based on a critical edition of the earliest Rajasthani manuscripts.

In Chapter 5 we give the ‘critical’ edition with apparatus, based on the , musical’ and ‘scribal’ versions at hand. The critical apparatus is the result of a computer programme. After the initial input and revision of each manuscript and the establishment of the ‘critical’ lines, there was no further scribal interference, and no opportunity for later generations to detect scribal errors. It may be that computer errors will be the next quarry.

Namdev’s poems published here have been handled by many singers before they were written down and this publication owes a lot to many people who have contributed to its form.

First we thank the custodians of the institutions where, since 1973, we have been allowed to study and copy manuscripts: Dr. A. Das and Mr. G.N. Bahura, City Palace, Jaipur; the Mahants of the Dadi Mahavidydlay, Jaipur; the Directors of the Oriental Research Institute at Jaipur, Jodhpur and Bikaner. The English rendering of Namdev’s terse songs has kept improving with the valuable suggestions of Richard Barz of Canberra, Francine Krishna of Jaipur and Ila Dalmia of Delhi. The computer programmes have been developed especially for this study by Herman Swinnen and Paul Bijnens of the University of Leuven, Belgium. We owe the fine laser print-out to the patience and expertise of Erik Van Eynde, University of Leuven and we are obliged to Ken Bryant, Vancouver, for the design of the Devnagari font. Generous funding by the University of Leuven has enabled us to pursue our intercontinental co-authorship both in India and in Belgium. For the input of the Hindi material we thank Vinay Jain and Anuradha Patni, Delhi, and Bart Op de Beeck, Leuven, for his very meticulous care in the production of the final copy.


One sometimes wonders whether looking for manuscripts isn’t a waste of time and energy. One peers through catalogues and handwritten lists, corresponds for years, travels in buses, drinks tea again and again, finds temples and institutions open but the person-in-charge absent. Eventually one can copy old manuscripts on film and spend hours at the reading machine. The editors of the New Oxford Complete Shakespeare (1986). define the task of editing as "a total waste of time which periodically reconstructs our image of the past". Of course they did prepare a new edition, leaving out even very popular passages.

But why bother? Why do we engage in the ‘waste of time’ of re-editing songs sung in the 14-16th centuries and committed to writing after a long period of oral transmission? Certainly, it does no harm periodically to stir up the academic or sectarian complacency and to remind ourselves that the bhajans we hear and read have been mediated by unknown singers and known scribes. Very few such transmitters passed on the songs of a pvet-mystic without changing them. Musicians adjusted the poetic line to suit the rhythm and adapted the language for the convenience of the audience, as they went from village to village, from one region to the other. And then the scribes took over, while the oral tradition too continued, adding and changing.

Studying the songs of a poet like Namdev is quite different from the study of Shakespeare or Kalidasa. It is the ambition of a text-critic studying Shakespeare to bring out the text ‘written’ by the author, looking at the various versions available in manuscripts. The text-critic soon realizes that this is impossible in the case of a Namdev or a Kabir. There is no way by which we can reach beyond the oral tradition to the pocts themselves. This oral tradition, unlike that of the Vedas, did not shun variety and creativity. Consequently, the oeuvre of Namdev (and other Sants?) has come to us in a multiplicity of forms, changing over both space and ‘time. We should look for an analogy in the Puranas, rather than in Shakespeare or Kalidasa.

Fortunately, the manuscript tradition allows us to reach the threshold of this oral tradition, or the moment when it started to be written down, some time before 1600 AD (while the oral tradition continued). Our textual study is an attempt to study the tradition of Namdev’s Hindi songs. We try to reproduce Namdev’s oeuvre as it existed in great diversity around 1600 AD. Unable to give up our samsk4r as text-critics we also look for uniformities in the multiplicity, slender threads which might lead us beyond the oral maze to Namdev himself. We cannot claim that we have succeeded in going beyond the songs of bhakti to Namdev the individual bhakta. But we certainly have gone deep into the rain forest of oral traditions, beyond the borderline between the oral and written traditions. The key to the nebulous past was the musical traces in the manuscripts: the rag pattern and the geyavikaras.

What do we know about Nadindev?

Rarely have critical questions been asked about the authenticity of the biographical data now so abundantly available in editions of Santa literature. Written material giving information about a Santa results from oral traditions which continue, up to the present day, after the written tradition had started. The oral traditions kept growing as time went on and were regularly written down in ever more elaborate versions. We do not suggest that these versions are ‘incorrect’. For millions deriving inspiration from oral traditions the written word is less important. And inspiration is as important a value as historical ‘authenticity’. But when we look at the biography of Namdev (and other Sants) from the historical’ point of view, we have to admit that there is very little we know for certain.

What do we know about Namdev? The earliest hagiography, the Parcai of Anantadas, was written in 1588 AD, more than 200 years after Namdev had died, and reflects a rich and well-formulated oral tradition'. For Anantadas the date of birth of Namdev and many. now ‘well-known’ facts were either not available or of no’ importance. He only briefly refers to a few miracles (ch. 1.5-8):

  • The first bhakta who lived in this Kali age was Namdev, he had God in his hands: he gave God milk, made the temple turn around and settled a quarrel with the Sultan.

  • He surrendered mind and body to the ultimate Brahma, reanimated a cow and scared an elenhant. He retrieved a bed dry from a river: the king and all the people were witnesses.

  • With His own hands Hari repaired the roof of his hut, He took the form of a dog to eat the bread offered by Namdev. Namdev also reanimated a bullock, so that the bullock cart could move again.

  • Hari did everything for the sake of his bhakta Namdev, whose miraculous deeds cannot be counted. Bringing an image of stone to life, he even made Hari speak.

    It is due to an ever-growing and continuing oral tradition that we have so many details about a Santa who certainly had a great appeal, even 400 years after his death.

    For Anantadds it was important to stress the superiority of bhakti above ritual practices: ‘The Santa has power even over God who is in love with him. Like a yogi mastering his body and attaining liberation, the bhakta has power over God’. In his Parcai Anantadas basically tells only two stories connected with Namdev in order to emphasize this message. He records what he found important for true devotees to know about Namdev;, assuming that they would be familiar with the details of other ‘events’. He wrote a didactic essay, not a historical biography.

    Now we turn to our manuscripts. The earliest manuscript with Hindi songs of Namdev is dated 1582 AD*. It was written more than 200 years after Namdev’s death. Its source was an oral tradition which did not shun change or mutation. The biographical historicity of its material may be doubtful, but it may in its own way be a reflection of true events. In song 231 from this manuscript we read that Namdev’s mother asks him not to go to the temple, and in song 234 we read about problems with Brahmans and about a temple incidents. The miracle of the dry bed in the river’ (see below, Ch. 1.1;E14) is first found in Namdev’s song 195, which is given only in two manuscripts. It should be ascertained whether any Marathi manuscript with autobiographical data is dated before 1582 AD.

    We do not denv that it is possible that songs edited and translated in our book were realiy composed by Namdev, and that autobiographical hints may have been given by him. What we know for certain is that these songs giving autobiographical information were sung in Rajasthan or in Panjab around 1600 AD. Manuscripts dated around 1600 AD are records of an oral tradition as it existed 250 years after Namdev’s death. Songs recorded in later manuscripts contain more details. Each later version is often like a new miniature painting of an old scene, recording more people in the background and packing more events into the scene. Whatever the historical value of the pictures we find in the songs recorded in our manuscripts, we should not forget that they are the only dated early matcrial about Namdev’s life. The manuscripts with the ever-expanding hagiographical accounts (see below Ch. 1) postdate the early manuscripts with songs.

    **Contents and Sample Pages**

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