Kabir: Offender and Offendables
Today's subject is the low-caste weaver and poet who dared to upturn the social orthodoxies of 15th century India - and who still challenges us today. Sunil explores the life and poetic legacy of Kabir - a dissenter, a provoker and an abrasive debunker of humbug.
There are plenty of legends around the poet - for example that, after his death, his body transfigured into flowers so that he could be neither cremated by his Hindu followers s nor buried by Muslim devotees - but we actually know very little about Kabir's life. One of the few certain facts is that he lived in India's most sacred city, Varanasi. Sunil Khilnani finds himself in the poor neighbourhood of Bajardhia where low-caste Muslims still work today as weavers. Sitting in cramped rooms among men with little work, Sunil reflects on the man who described himself as 'a patient weaver's son' but who is actually one of the most impatient, acerbic, fed-up voices in the Indian cultural canon.
Kabir has become venerated across northern India as a saint, almost a god. Yet Sunil finds Kabir's name being invoked in secular circles too, for example the annual Jaipur Literary Festival, a 21st century haven for independent thinking. Here he meets the eminent poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, translator of Kabir's poems into modern idiom and an advocate for the poetic dissenter who wasn't afraid to offend the powerful.
Producer: Jeremy Grange
Original music composed by Talvin Singh.