June 18, 2017

भाखा बहता नीर: language is like flowing water

I'm not too sure where I came first across this line of Kabir's, which describes his views on language in a pithy epigrammatic style, contrasting the dead Sanskrit of ancient religious texts with bhakha or bhasha (literally 'language'), the colloquial living language of his time which he used in his own verse.'संस्करित है कूप जल, भाखा बहता नीर' it reads: Sanskrit is like stagnant water in a well, but bhakha, the true language of the people, changes constantly and cannot be bound by rules, like flowing water. That's a lot to convey in just six words, and I'm curious what the second line of the couplet could be. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it online. If any reader can provide it, I'll be most grateful.

Update: MMcM, a reader at Languagehat, has posted a link to the book Gujarat and its Literature by KM Munshi, which quotes the entire couplet along with some additional verses.
संस्कृतहि पंडित कहै, बहुत करै अभिमान
भाषा जानि तरक करै, ते नर मूढ़ अजान
संस्करित संसार में, पंडित करै बखान
भाषा भक्ति दृढावही, न्यारा पद निरबान
संस्करित है कूप जल, भाषा बहता नीर
भाषा सतगुरु सहित है, सतमत गहिर गंभीर
Here's my loose translation, based on Munshi's prose rendition. In the last line I've used an alternative version I found, which has सरल instead of गहिर:
The pandit spouts Sanskrit and preens arrogantly:
'The man who would argue in bhasha is an ignorant fool!'
The pandit praises Sanskrit through the entire world
But in bhasha alone is firm faith, the verse of salvation
Sanskrit is water in a well, bhasha a running stream
Bhasha is one with the true guru, the true word simple and deep
It's interesting to read the entire couplet and see how the meaning of the line I quoted has changed. It's about language, yes, but it is also about the search for truth. A paradox is introduced: Sanskrit may be the repository of classical knowledge, a well from which many have drunk, but its still waters do not run as deep as the flowing stream of bhasha, in which one may stand and look all the way through to the profound truth.


Languagehat said...

An interesting question; I've reposted it here.

R Devraj said...

Thank you so much!