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13. A Curious King, a Psychic Leper, and the Workings of Karma: Bajid’s Entertaining Narratives1

Imre Bangha

The Hindi literary scene in the second half of the sixteenth century underwent a deep change and, thanks to the stability and patronage of the Mughal empire, Brajbhasha started to supersede the earlier layers of Awadhi and sant poetry. Up until that time it was Puranic, epic, and historical narratives and sufi romances—composed normally in the doha-chaupai metre, conveying important religious or political messages, and usually of a performative nature—that had been deemed worthy of being committed to writing in the vernacular. Towards the end of the sixteeenth century, however, books began to appear in Brajbhasha that were composed in order to be read and studied and not primarily to be performed (see Busch in this volume). This is also the time when we can spot the beginning of an ever-increasing commitment to writing down Hindi songs that had so far been transmitted by oral performance.

It was also around this time that “lighter” works began to appear on the vernacular literary scene in which the slender message becomes subsidiary to the delight in storytelling.2 One of the first known proponents of the genre of entertaining narratives committed to writing was the poet Bajid. Bajid is interesting not simply as one of the first storytellers per se, but rather because he was widely copied in the world of handwritten books, and as the author of short poems that are still current in the oral lore of Rajasthan he is one of the most dramatic examples of how literary tastes changed with the advent of print culture. The study of Bajid’s oeuvre contributes to a better understanding of the popular literary world of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the circulation of popular works in oral and written form.

Bajid was a prolific author. About a hundred and twenty unpublished works of his exist in manuscript form. While he was most renowned for the short stanza form arilla, most of his works are predominantly narrative compositions (in doha-chaupai metre) of fifteen to one hundred couplets each. There are also two anthologies of dohas, which prefigure the massive Dadupanthi “storebooks”, the Gañjanāmās and Sarvāṅgīs. Along with the arillas and the narrative poems in doha-chaupai, Bajid also composed in new poetic forms such as kundaliya, jhulna, and nisani—all forms that seem to emerge in Hindi literature around this time. Bajid also experimented with various voices, linguistic styles, and registers. His rekhta composition in mixed language is the first longer composition in Khari Boli in North India, predating the Bikaṭ kahānī by several decades.3

Bajid is remembered in hagiography as a Pathan disciple of Dadu Dayal (see Horstmann in this volume). And while Dadu is remembered as a great saint and composer of songs, his first-generation disciples—including those with Muslim backgrounds such as Bajid and Rajjab—have left behind a massive written legacy.4 Bajid’s works are testimony to the transition from the performed world to the written and they bear signs of both. A clear sign of the written world can be found in the names of his books, most of which are called are nāmau, a Brajified version of the Persian term nāma, “book”. By doing this Bajid was imitating Mughal Persian literature to an audience that did not necessarily know Persian but surely respected its status. Although the majority of Bajid’s works are in non-Persianised Bhasha, he systematically uses words such as divan to refer to God acting as a worldly lord, and dargah for his court. Bajid’s works abound in references to writing. For example, fate is expressed in his Kaṭhiyārā-nāmau with the words likhe/likhyau or kalām, both meaning “what has been written”. He also frequently refers to letters, and one of his compositions, entitled Ciṭhī (“Letter”), imitates the style of early Hindi letters.5 The fact that his works were copied so extensively shows that, already in Bajid’s lifetime, oral transmission was not felt to be enough to preserve them.

Nonetheless Bajid’s works also show clear performative signs. Modern kathavachaks—performers and expounders of Sanskrit or Hindi stories—still use Bajid’s arillas to highlight their points. Bajid himself used arillas in a similar fashion at the end of his longer works to underscore their moral message. Normally Bajid’s works are instantly comprehensible, lacking as they do any Sanskritic ornamentation. What renders his independent poems and his didactic or narrative compositions lively is the use of proverbs and idioms instead. In this respect Bajid’s poetry can be perceived as an alternative to his contemporary Keshavdas, who infused Sanskrit kavya tradition into Hindi literary culture (see Busch in this volume).

Saint and Poet: Bajid Remembered

Notwithstanding the neglect of modern historiography, Bajid is remembered in hagiography as a Pathan disciple of Dadu Dayal, while in the wider literate and oral world he has been popular for his independent quatrains in the arilla metre, of which he was considered to be the best exponent.

The earliest manuscript material attests that Bajid was a contemporary of Dadu Dayal (1544-1603) and was active already before 1600.6 Although his association with Dadu is somewhat unclear, he is very much present in early Dadupanthi literature, both in anthologies and in hagiography. The earliest hagiographic work mentioning Bajid is Raghavdas’s Dadupanthi Bhaktamāl (1660/1713/17207), where he is counted among the hundred and fifty-two disciples of Dadu, though not the smaller circle of his fifty-two disciples (in verses 361-62). Yet Bajid was important enough to make it into the group of the twelve disciples of Dadu to whom Raghavdas devotes one or more entire chhappay stanzas. Bajid’s popularity as a poet may well be the reason why Raghavdas provided an independent description for him.

It is Bajid’s Muslim background and his conversion that Raghavdas found most interesting. Reference to his literary activity with the polyvalent word bhajana (“worship”, “devotional singing”) merges it with general praise of his pious life. Bajid was a Pathan, and this is probably why Raghavdas uses the Perso-Arabic words malika and khalika (khāliq) in his chhappay, where his Muslim birth is not wished away but retained in the vocabulary chosen to describe him:

He gave up his Pathan lineage and recited the name of Rama;
through the power of his worship/singing (bhajana) Bajid won the game (bājī).
His heart was terrified when he killed a gazelle and out of this terror
inner strength arose and his evil attitude dispersed.
He broke his bow and his arrows, cheated his body
and emerged under the guru Dadu, the compassionate.
Raghavdas says, his body and his heart delighted in the Lord (mālika) day and night
and he played with the Creator (khālika) as if released from the games of this world.

(Raghavdas, Bhaktamāl 428)8

This is a familiar topos in hagiographies, suggesting conversion from a previous lifestyle that entailed habitual killing. Valmiki’s precedent is the most well-known, but the same topos of conversion arising from killing a gazelle can also be found in a sufi hagiography, the Chishtiya bihishtiya (1655), where it is recounted in relation to Bajid’s contemporary Baha’ al-Din Barnavi (d.1630), the first known composer of khayal.9

The following arilla shows that Bajid himself thought of the conversion as a means to destroy his earlier kafirpan “disbelief” or “baseness’:

I was a base/unbelieving (kāphira) soul not thinking of the Beloved;
I did not talk of compassion or morality;
my filthiness was destroyed by removing disbelief (kāphirapanā);
and indeed, my master showed me a blessed slavery.

(Gurudev kau aṅga 5)10

Later hagiographies follow Raghavdas and agree that Bajid did not make disciples and did not participate in the leadership of the sect but rather dedicated his life to literary activities, which he perceived as devotion.11 Bajid himself emphasised proper conduct more than literary achievements, as did Dadu in many of his couplets:

bājida phūlā bhāvarā, sākhī pada ko joṛa;
ṭharāvana meṃ ṭhīka paṛai, bāta kahāṁ ke kroṛa

(Jagannath: Guṇgañjanāmā, 156, karaṇī binā kathanī kau aṅga, 2)

Bajid says, the dull swelling with pride composes couplets and songs.
One should be proper in one’s behaviour. What are millions of words good for?

The fact that the largest accessible collection of Bajid manuscripts—some sixty works—is to be found not in a sectarian institution but in the Khasmohar Collection at the City Palace in Jaipur, which served as the library for the rulers of Amber and Jaipur, suggests that Bajid was once appreciated in the royal court as much in Dadupanthi circles.12 His popularity—the proliferation of the Bajid manuscripts in Rajasthan tells us that he was one of the most widely read poets in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—is in sharp contrast with his absence from many modern histories of Hindi literature, including the canonical one by Ramchand Shukla. (This is paralleled by the neglect of other important Dadupanthi authors with Muslim backgrounds, namely Rajjab and Bakhna.)

Bajid’s Arillas

Notwithstanding his religious background, Bajid’s popularity in the early modern period was due to his arillas, as this kabitt by one Gopal testifies:13

canda jū kau chanda, chapai nāmā baitāla jū kau, keso ko kavitta, doha bihārī ke su gāṃsa kau;
vallabbha rasika māñjha, giridhara kavi kuṇḍaliyā, bājida arilla jo hai atisai prakāsa kau;
rasarāsa rekhatā, au bāta bīrabala jū kī, tulasī caupāī au saloka vedavyāsa kau;
bhanata gupāla e jahāna bīca jāhira haiṃ, sūra ko pada aura dhurapada haridāsa kau

Chand (bardai)’s chhanda, Namdev’s chappaya on Vitthal, Keshav’s kavitta, Bihari’s dohas, which are like arrow-heads.15
Vallabh Rasik’s manjh, the poet Giridhar’s kundaliya, Bajid’s arilla, which is abundant with brilliance,
Rasrashi’s rekhta and Birbal’s sayings, Tulsi’s chaupai and Vedavyasa’s shloka
Gupal says—all these are well-known in the world, together with Sur’s pad and Haridas’s dhrupad.

For this reason, it is worth dwelling briefly on this genre. The arilla, a poetic form called sometimes chandrayan, is a quatrain rhyming in couplets with 11+10 (or sometimes 9+12) morae in a line. In contrast with the trochaic ending of the doha suitable for closing a statement, the final sequence of the arilla with its cretic (long-short-long) cadence was especially suitable for final exclamations and questions encouraging the involvement of the listener or the reader. As a genre, the arilla was already present in Apabhramsha literature, yet in Hindi it emerged as a literary genre around the end of the sixtenth century and became especially popular in the Dadupanth.16 Its popularity may be linked to Bajid’s extraordinarily successful use of it, a practice that included questions, exclamations, proverbs, and idioms expressed in down-to-earth language.17

Bajid’s arillas express general Nirgun sant teachings. Books of his arillas were published five times between 1932 and 2007.18 They even inspired the modern guru Osho to deliver discourses on them.19 His stray arillas, along with some of his other works, have been included in the two Dadupanthi Sarvāṅgīs of Rajjab (c.1600)20 and Gopaldas (1627), and in the Gañjanāmā of Jagannathdas,21 another disciple of Dadu Dayal.22 They are still current as popular sayings in Rajasthan and storytellers often quote them to prove their words.23 Like the dohas, arillas are good vehicles for short religious or general moral teachings, though their greater length allows somewhat greater scope for poetic imagery or verbal play. In these two examples, a warning about inescapable death is vividly matched by the quotidian image of the millstone and the agricultural images of the dike and of grass growing along the road:

gāphila rahibo bīra kahau kyūṃ banata hai;
yā mānasa ke sāṁsa ju jauṃrā ginata hai;
jāga lāga hari-nāṁva kahāṃ lauṃ soihai;
pari hāṃ cākī ke mukha paryau su maidā hoihai
(2 Sumiran kau aṅga, 4)

How long can you remain negligent, my friend,
when King Death counts the breaths of this life?
Awake! Be attached to God’s name! How long will you sleep?
And indeed, whatever falls into the millstone will become flour.

kāla phirata hai nāla raini dini loya re;
hanai raṅka aru rāva gīnai nahiṃ koya re;
yaha dunīyā bājīda bāṭa kī dūba hai;
pari hāṁ pānī pahale pāla baṃdhai to khūba hai.
(5 Kāl kau aṅga, 9)

O man! Death walks along with you day and night.
It kills both the lowly and the king, does not consider anyone.
Bajid, this world is grass on the roadside.
And indeed, it is good to prepare a dike before the water comes.

That Bajid’s arillas were perceived as religious poetry by the scribes and probably by the poet himself is signalled by the fact that in most manuscripts they are organised into “angas”, just like the dohas of the other Dadupanthi poets.24 But many arillas must also have been memorised and transmitted orally, just as in modern times, and eventually included independently into the massive Sarvāṅgīs. Bajid’s persona remained important in this process of transmission, since even verses without poetic signature are correctly attributed to him in the anthologies by the inclusion of a hypermetrical signature vājīda into the text of each poem.

Although one of the modern editors of Vaijid’s arillas was astonished by the fact that “he used a very pure form of Hindi” (i.e. Brajbhasha) in them, the language of Bajid’s works as preserved in the manuscripts is hardly homogenous.25 There are compositions in Brajbhasha, in Sadhukkari—the language of the sants mixing grammar and vocabulary from various North Indian languages and dialects—in the Dhundhari dialect of the Jaipur area, while his Rekhta used the new literary medium of Khari Boli. Although it is clear that Bajid consciously used various dialects, we should be aware of the fact that the original language of a particular work may have undergone changes during written transmission. A major dividing line is between Brajbhasha and Dhundhari: sometimes manuscripts of the same work prefer one or another, thus dragging the work more towards a higher cosmopolitan court culture (Brajbhasha) or towards a more local Rajasthani environment (Dhundhari).

Bajid’s Other Works

Most of Bajid’s works deal with issues important to the sant tradition without being sectarian or expressing explicit allegiance to Dadu Dayal and the Dadupanth. His preferred themes include the pain and longing of the devotee for union with the ineffable being (Virah-nāmau, Virah-vilās, etc.) and the contrast between false or true devotion. He attacks human shortcomings in the “Book of the Obtuse” (Mūrikh-nāmau), the “Book of the Disgraced One” (Nakaṭā-nāmau), the “Book of the Negligent” (Gāfil-nāmau), and the “Book of the Quarrelsome Woman” (Karkas-nāmau). His Pādsāh-nāmau is a celebration of Jahangir’s remittance of the pilgrimage tax. Some of the titles—e.g. the “Book of the Sufi” (Sūphī-nāmau), the “Book of the King” (Śāh-nāmau), the “Book of Union” (Vāsil-nāmau), and the “Book of Love” (Muhabbat-nāmau)—distinctly reference the wider Persianate culture of North India at the time, albeit in a more popular form.

Along with Bajid’s earthly language, there are also traces of what we can call realism in his imagery. His Utpattināmau uses realistic imagery to describe the worthlessness and suffering of worldly life from the time before birth until death:

nakha-sikha roma-roma rasa bhīno; sarbasu lye juvatī koṃ dīno.
bhayo nisaṅka na māṃnai saṅka; meṭi calyo bidhinā ke aṅka.
batalāyeṃ te neka na bolai; galiyārana meṃ eṭhyau ḍolai.
ṭeḍhī pāga ukāsai bāṁha; calateṃ phiri phiri dekhai chāṁha.
gārai apanaiṃ ganai na koi; hama baḍa hama baḍa hama baḍa, loi.
suta dārā mero dhana dhāṁma; chūṭi na sakai kiyo basa kāṃma.
aratha-daraba kī lāgo sevā; pūji na sakyo nirañjana devā.
mūrikha mana māyā meṃ dīnau; hari nāgara sūṃ heta na kīnau. (34)26

Your every pore from head to toe was drenched in emotion and you gave all your wealth to young women;
You were fearless without notions of fear, you effaced what was written for you by God.
When you were asked you did not speak, you swaggered down the streets;
With turban awry and showing your muscles, you gazed at your shadow as you walked.
No one is aware of his own pride; “I am great, I am great, I am great, o people!
I have son, wife, wealth and a house!”—you couldn’t get free: desire subdued you.
You served money and wealth and could not worship the untainted god.
Your obtuse mind was set on illusion; you did not love Hari, the one from the town.

Apart from frequent copying there is also a very unusual indicator of the popularity of Bajid’s compositions. According to the modern editor of his collected works, Brajendra Simhal, five of Bajid’s longer works are included in their entirety in the Sarvāṅgī of Gopaldas.27 This is a clear sign that when compiling his anthology Gopaldas did not work simply from memory but had manuscripts in front of him.

What is the reason of the modern Hindi historians’ amnesia about Bajid? There is probably more than one factor at work. Bajid’s poetry is not ornate and lacks alankaras and even rasa in the Indian aesthetic sense. Arillas were never considered a major poetic form in Hindi and were hardly used for learned poetry. But their simple style, down-to-earth idiomatic language, and performative practice—as Thibaut d’Hubert points out in this volume, performance provided the ornamentation for unornate poetry—kept Bajid’s arillas alive even when Hindi high literature in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries neglected it.

Two Entertaining Tales:
Andhā kubrā kau sagun and Rājkirat

As mentioned above, Bajid is remembered in hagiography as a disciple of Dadu Dayal with a Muslim background and in the wider literate and oral world as the author of celebrated stray arillas. Bajid the storyteller, however, is unduly forgotten today. Yet among the most oft-copied manuscripts of Bajid’s narrative works in doha-chaupai are several entertaining narratives that display features of oral performance.

While most of Bajid’s works are concerned with Nirgun religion and morality and fall into the category of upades or “religious teaching”, his interest in storytelling is testified to by the title of several of his works about “famous deeds” or kirat/kīrat,28 such as Māyā kirat, Govind kirat, Dās kirat, Viśvās kirat, Kāyā kirat, Gopāl kirat, and Prahlād kirat.29 In addition, Bajid’s longest independent compositions are two books called Hitopades. Some of these narratives recreate Panchatantra fables in Bhasha while others seem to be rooted in oral tales. In these narratives religion often receives less attention and Bajid seems keener to investigate psychology. I already remarked on his interest in human shortcomings, and he was similarly attracted to people humble either by birth or by accident, such as low-caste wood-sellers, hunchbacks, blind people, or lepers. If devotional vocabulary and ideas appear in these tales, they are generally voiced in a subversive fashion by his wayward characters. And while these characters often meet with failure, listeners no doubt were expected to laugh at their pious words.

Five of the works by Bajid that I am editing with Daksha Mistry, a colleague from Vadodara, are tales. The story called Rājkirat, “The Deeds of a King”, is the most popular, with eight documented manuscripts. The Kaṭhiyārā or “Book of the Wood-Seller” has five, while three short fables drawing on the Panchatantra tradition are preserved in a single manuscript in the royal collection of Jaipur. Although their circulation varied, all narratives belong to the same genre and one can even perceive a development in them. The Panchatantra stories do not have much of a religious veneer, the Kaṭhiyārā is heavily loaded with philosophical discourse, while the Rājkirat is mostly narrative with a touch of the discursive.

Other authors of chaupai-doha narratives tend to use the doha in order to underline the preceding chaupais. Bajid inverts the sequence: the doha comes first and introduces the new theme that will unfold in the following chaupais. While in the former case, the doha provides some rest in the narrative flow, in the latter it creates suspense and expectation. As in Bajid’s other compositions, several dohas may come together at the end with a concluding arilla that enunciates the moral, which in the case of these narratives does not necessarily refer to any sant teaching.

The tales consist of monologues and dialogues full of idioms and proverbs that evoke spoken language rather than narrative discourse, thus using mimesis instead of diegesis.30 Conversations are lively and tension is created by sudden “cuts” and changes of scene, while the use of conventional elements that stimulate the arising of a certain mood (uddipanas) creates a correspondence between event, setting, and mood, as with the terrible storm at night when the king approaches the merchant, or the joyful rain at the meeting of the blind man with the hunchback. The didactic element in Bajid’s popular narratives varies in emphasis. In some stories, the use of wit and entertainment is clearly part of religious instruction, as in the kirtankar performances discussed by Christian Novetzke in his essay in this volume. In the Kaṭhiyārā-nāmau (“Book of the Wood-Seller”), for example, an interesting story raises interesting questions about the relationship between fate and divine power:

kalama piyā kai hātha hai kidhauṃ kalama kai pīva;
darigahi lau gudarāiyau araja kahī yaha jīva
(Kaṭhiyārā-nāmau 28)

Is fate in the hands of the Beloved or is the Beloved in the hands of fate?
Take my case to His court. This is the request of the soul.

In this tale a destitute and lowly wood-seller achieves one wish for each member of his family as a boon from the Lord (divan) through the mediation of a holy man (sadha) who attends his court (dargah) and who in the paratext is identified with Narada (“nāradovāca”). Once turned into a woman young and beautiful like a queen, the wood-cutter’s wife disregards her husband who, thereupon, turns her into a parrot. Eventually their son restores the original situation to everyone’s satisfaction. The composition is heavily loaded with verses about fate (kalam) and divine power that come from the mouth of the Lord.

Let us now turn to the story entitled “The Good Omen of the Blind Man and the Hunchback” (Andhā-kubrā kau sagun), a satire in 63 doha-chaupai stanzas about a blind man and a hunchback who try their hands at burglary. Several values get reversed when related to these two inauspicious figures. The title is already ironical, for “sagun” (shakun)good omen—is one of the key words in the story. Whereas the meeting of blind people and cripples in India is considered to be a bad omen (apashakun), in the tale the two characters perceive their meeting as a good omen for their successful venture. This inverted language appears already in the introductory doha, when the two refer to their miseries with the word for victory (“jaya”), although instead of joy they cry out in pain:

āndhau ara kubarau mile kathā kahai kai phera;
āpa āpane jaya kau lāge kahana dukha ṭera.

A blind man and a hunchback met and spoke, taking turns;
both of them started to tell their own “victories” shouting out in pain.

The first half of the story describes the meeting of the two men in the form of a repartee. In one chaupai the hunchback describes his misery as a cripple derided by others, but he quickly goes on to point out the real cause of his gloom:

jaga mahi jīye kaunahi kāma; jau pai gaṃṭhi soṃ bhayī na dāma. (4)[…]
niradhana dekhi dhāma kau dhāvahi; mati hama pahi kahu māgana āvahi.

What is the use of living in this world if there is no money in one’s wallet?
When people see a poor man they run into their houses lest he come beg from them.

The blind man then reveals to the hunchback that although he is blind he can see everything and is a master thief:

Hunchback, you do not know my secret, I swear I can outdo any thief.
Ten others trust in me; I am the head of five thieves. (13)[…]
Thanks to the gift of the omen I can find hidden treasures, it takes me no time to find one. (15)

He adds a few words about the heroism of the thief reminiscent not only of the ideal of the jivan-mukta, “those who are detached from their lives”, but also of the morals of Ravana’s vairya-bhakti, according to which even inimical deeds bear the fruit of salvation because in them attention is directed to God, or in this case to the “true ones” (sāṁce, an apparently polisemic word referring both to the sants and to those who are not crooked),

When a thief waits in hiding (for a chance) he does not lust after his life:
It is the person dying at the feet of the true ones who achieves splendour. (17)

This couplet is a parody of another doha of Bajid’s, in which the message of spiritual heroism has to be taken seriously. The verse is included in the Sarvāṅgī of Gopaldas:

Bajid [says], If he dies, he will earn the fruit of liberation; if he stays alive, he will shine in the world;
When a hero enters the battle, he does not lust after his life.

(Gopaldas 1993: Sarvāṅgī 59, p. 29)

All this talk of heroism enthuses the hunchback, who asks the blind man to be his guru and save him, again using bhakti vocabulary in a subversive way:

One cannot take weight on one’s bare [i.e. unprotected] shoulder31;
who can cross (a river) without a boatman?
I am being washed away, catch my hands! You are a great tree, let me sit in your shade. (22)…
Then the blind man thought over these words and investigated all possibilities:
is there a shore below or earth above? (27)

Eventually the blind man accepts the golden opportunity, “the golden/omen bird” (a word-play on sauna). While they celebrate, it begins to rain, as if nature is also celebrating with them, and a golden bird comes and sits between them.

They then set off and arrive in front of a closed compound, where the first problem arises: the gate is closed. Somehow they manage to get in through the drain, but once inside the hunchback loses heart. The blind man comforts him by reminding him of the good omen that helped them to get thus far. Fortunately everyone is asleep and the blind man can enter the building. Thanks to his extraordinary sense he finds the hidden wealth, and they make their way out the same way they came. Once again the hunchback loses heart, and this time the household wakes up and the cook and a few men start chasing the two thieves on horseback. The hunchback loses heart even further and foresees their future in prison and their eventual death. The blind man consoles him, once more drawing upon devotional vocabulary towards the end of his speech:

pota parāi sira dharihauṃ samajhyo hau taba;
ika andha ara kubarau doū maribe aba.
[tau] kubare kahi tau mana kari dhīrau; ko aihai hama tuma doū nīro.
hiyau na hāri, hāthi hai sauna; hamakau lagai na tātau pauna.

musakila saba karihai āsāna; miṭyau tama jaba ugyo bhāna.
kubarai bāta sunahi kini aisī; saguna bhayau tau saṃkā kaisī.
saguna hamāraiṃ sadā sahāī; saguna pitā saguna hī māī.
roṭī daī saguna kī khāhiṃ; saguna binā su āsarau nāhiṃ.

“Earlier I thought that I would grasp the wealth of others,
but now first the blind man and then the hunchback will die”.
Then the blind man said, “Hunchback, take courage, who can come near us?
don’t lose heart, the omen is in our hand—not even the wind can harm to us”.

Every difficulty will straighten out. Once the sun rises all darkness disappears.
Why don’t you listen to me, hunchback? If we have the omen,why doubt?
The omen always helps us, the omen is our father and mother.
We eat what the omen gives us; without the omen we have no refuge”.

Indeed the omen does protect them, and the arrows of their pursuers turn back upon them. Now that they have escaped, the hunchback tries to get hold of the booty by poisoning the blind man’s water. However, instead of killing the blind man, the poison cures his blindness. He immediately discovers the hunchback’s intention and begins kicking him. And through this kicking the hunchback himself is healed. Now the two become fast friends, and the narrator concludes:

naisaka citai kpā kī kora; jana bājīda bacāyau cora. (62)

Just a glance at God’s grace, the devotee Bajid says, saved the thief.

The morals are only loosely connected to the story—through his use of devotional vocabulary Bajid seems to suggest in a twisted way that faith in the omen was indeed salvific.

Bajid’s skillful characterisation in this story is remarkable. The blind man’s assertiveness contrasts sharply with the wailing, pusillanimous, and eventually treacherous hunchback. The miraculous healing of the heroes at the end of the Andhā-kubrā ko saguṇ seems based on the story of the three-breasted princess found in some versions of the Panchatantra. In that tale a blind man is persuaded by his hunchback friend to marry the inauspicious three-breasted daughter of a king in order to get her dowry. After some time the infatuated hunchback tries to kill the blind man by feeding him a dead cobra. Yet the poison has the opposite effect and cures his blindness. Through the kicks and blows in the ensuing fight both the hunchback and the three-breasted woman are cured of their deformations.32 In Bajid’s version the character of the three-breasted princess is eliminated and a more polisemic bird/omen (the sauna) replaces the inauspicious woman and her gold, which in Braj also translates as sauna.

Although the story of the hypocrite lion that takes up the first half of Bajid’s Parpañc-nāmau is absent from the classical versions of the Panchatantra, it still echoes the hypocritical animals encountered in some recensions. The second half of the Parpañc-nāmau features the story of an ass without ears and heart, which does have a Panchatantra lineage.33 Bajid thus took current stories—whether he knew they came from the Panchatantra or independently—and turned them into self-standing tales. Bajid’s example shows that stories could be taken from a wide pool, closely connected to popular culture. Curiously, the only existing manuscript describes these three narratives as the work of “Miyan Bajid”—while the colophons of other works refer to him more often as “Bajidji”—thus suggesting that these works of his were perceived as somewhat more “Muslim” than his other compositions.

The Rājkirat or “The Deeds of the King”—in which a king discovers the truth of his previous birth from a leper—is Bajid’s most popular tale. The tale follows the common pattern of a seeker being sent further and further to discover the truth for himself in a humble, and humbling, fashion. The story is also a familiar one and usually features King Bhoja as its hero,34 and the parallel with the almost contemporary story of Garuda and the crow Bhushundi in the Uttarakanda of Tulsidas’s Rāmcaritmānas (7.58-125) is hard to miss. In this version Garuda wonders why Rama, the lord of the universe, was subject to the snake trap in the war with Ravana. Garuda first asks Narada who directs him to Brahma, who sends him further to Shiva, who perceiving pride in him sends him to the crow Bhushundi who at last answers him. Bhushundi also explains his present lowly state as the consequence of acts of pride in his previous births.

Rājkirat tells the story of a king who becomes obsessed with his past life, more precisely with knowing which virtuous act he committed in order to gain the bliss of his present life. In an act reminiscent of Turandot-type stories, he imprisons all the Brahmins who are not able to give him an answer. Then he sets out himself in search of anyone who can tell the past and future. Soon the scene changes and we are at the house of a merchant (mahājana) who can sense the death of his own son in a distant country. The idiolect of the characters is made more marked by an abundance of proverbs and idioms:

jau kahiye tau mānai kauna; beṭai diyo jare pari launa.
pūta piyārau jhūjhyau ājū; mūla gaṃvāyau lāhā kājū
. (8)

sevaga bāta gaï nahī kīnī; gharī mahūrati dina likhi līnī.
tela dekhi tela kī dhārā; bina māraiṃ ko karai pukārā
. (9)

cānda kuṃ ḍārani kahu kyauṃ chāyau; jyauṃ hai tyauṃ ba saṃdesau āyau.
sevaga kāni saṃdesau sunyau; masare hātha sīsa pari dhunyau
. (10)

rājā bipra satāvai bādī; ūṃṭahi chāḍi ajā kina lādī.
sāha hamāro būjhau, loī; āsaṃkyā jiya rahai na koī
. (11)

“If I say so, who will believe me? My son poured salt onto my wound;
My beloved son died today, when I sought to gain I lost my capital in the bargain”.

A servant did not let these words go by and wrote down their exact time,
(saying) “I saw the oil and the oil’s flow (I have seen it in all its aspects),why would one who is not hit cry out?”

Can the moon be hidden by branches? The news came out exactly as it was said.
A servant heard it with his ears, rubbed his hands and beat his head [in sorrow].

“The king is torturing his priests in vain; why is he loading a goat instead of a camel?
Ask my master! No doubt will remain in your heart”. (11)

The king is directed to this merchant and arrives at his house in the dramatic setting of a dark and stormy night. The merchant sends the king to a carpenter, who has better knowledge than he does. The king first sends out one of his footsoldiers, who finds the carpenter preparing a junk for fractured bones (khāpa) because the village headman’s son is about to fall from the horse and break his arm. Now convinced that the carpenter knows the future the king comes to him:

khātī uṭhi ṭhāḍhau bhayau mahārāji kauṃ dekha;
cherī kai mukhi tūbarā kyauṃ ba samāvai, sekha.

khāya tihārau launa, svāmī, jana yetau bhayau;
yā garība kai bhauna kyauṃ paga dhāre, nātha jū
. (30)

Seeing the king the carpenter got up:
“How can a gourd fit into the mouth of a nanny-goat? (29)

I eat your salt, my lord, how did your servant become so important?
Why did you come, my lord, to this poor man’s house?” (30)

The carpenter reveals that there is a leper outside the town who will be able to answer the king’s query. At this point the narrator inserts a moral comment:

The merchant knew the events, the carpenter did not reveal them;
It was in order to get the king rid of his pride (rājas) that he was sent to the leper. (39)

This is the same argument that Shiva uses with Garuda in the above-mentioned story in the Rāmcaritmānas:

The reason, Uma, why I did not myself instruct him was that by the grace of Raghunatha I knew the secret (of Garuda’s infatuation). He must on some occasion have given vent to his pride, and the gracious Lord Rama evidently wished to cure him of it.

(7.61.4, trans. R.C. Prasad)35

In Bajid’s Rājkirat, the king then approaches the leper, who tells the king that in their previous lives all four of them were brothers who lived in poverty. Just as in the story of the blind man and the hunchback and in the Kaṭhiyārā-nāmau, there is some description of their poverty as wood-sellers with hardly anything to eat—and even in this tale the four brothers resolve to go thieving! However, a wandering ascetic overhears and scolds them. The future leper’s reaction is to throw a stone at the ascetic and break his head. The future king washes the ascetic’s wound and covers him with his clothes. The carpenter gives him some dry food, the merchant offers him food cooked in oil, and the king gives him all his food. The narrator then reasserts the common Indian knowledge about karma:

bhalī karai tākauṃ bhala hoī; burī burā, sandeha na koī. (50)

If one does good, he will receive good, and if bad, then bad, there is no doubt.

The leper explains that neither the merchant nor the carpenter were proud of their good deeds, whereas the king had the quality of passion (rajas), which is egotism, pride, and darkness, and was already thinking about attaining royal splendour. Therefore, while the trace of the two brothers’ deeds—their samskara—disappeared, the king could not see his past good deed. At the end of the story the king himself expresses the moral of the tale:

… sukrata binā nara-kāyā kaisī.
jaba laga yā jaga māṃhī rahiye; kari upagāra aura sana kahiye
. (54)

… How can one attain human birth without good deeds?
As long as you live, tell everyone to do good to others.

As previously mentioned, the relatively high number of manuscripts attests to the fact that this was a popular work. Its popularity cannot be explained without reference to the work’s literary merit, its lively style, and well-designed structure, with well-placed repetitions and rising tension. The three meetings are similar and echo each other, and one cannot miss that with each meeting the king gets closer and closer to the other speaker. While the Brahmins are unable to answer the king’s query, it is through rumour that he hears about the merchant’s ability. He first sends a man to see the carpenter but later sets off himself, and immediately, to visit the leper. The Brahmins know nothing, the merchant knows what happens far away in the present, the carpenter knows the future, but it is the leper who reveals the past. The lower one lies on the social scale, the more one knows. Instead of the parodic subversion of the story of the blind and the hunchback, we have a different kind of reversal here, in this case connected with pride and the need for humility. The inner development of the king is made explicit by the change in his approach towards the men he meets. As he goes lower and lower, his kingly pride appears less and less. One can almost perceive the story as an early Indian Bildungsroman. The simple message about karma, pride, and passion is elaborated in an entertaining manner.

The characters in Bajid’s tales are not Brahmins but rather people from the lower classes. In fact, Brahmins are useless in Rājkirat, just as asceticism is hypocritical in one of his animal fables. Figures outside society, such as the leper or the blind man, appear as liminal characters with extraordinary powers. All this suggests that their audience (and readership) might have been closer to the world of the merchant and of the carpenter. However, the moral of the Rājkirat also tells the listener a message about the deeper brotherhood between the various castes, since they all were brothers in a previous life.

Oral Traces in Written Texts

These tales are told in simple Brajbhasha, using the standard narrative structure of chaupai-dohas. Although the reader of the manuscripts encounters these tales as written texts, several traces evoke oral performance. Foremost among them is the frequent address to an imagined audience—“ho bhiya” (“hey brothers”) or “loi” (“people”)—normally embedded in the metre. After a doha, each new set of chaupais normally begins with an unmetrical tau (“then”) to give the composition a more colloquial tint. Other colloquialisms include the frequent use of emphatics, such as “completely” (“mūri”), at the end of the half lines. The second half of the Rājkirat introduces pseudo-Sanskrit paratextual indicators to the dialogues—“rājā uvāca, koṛhī uvāca” (“the king said”, “the leper said”)—possibly inserted by the author or by a scribe in imitation of the Sanskrit epics.

While the use of such formulaic expressions is considered typical of oral compositions, John Brockington has observed in connection with the Sanskrit Rāmāyaṇa that they may also be used to evoke oral performance: “The tendency to greater frequency of formulaic pādas in the later parts of both epics does seem not to be an index of orality but rather a sign of the decay of genuine oral tradition”.36 In Bajid’s case, too, we have literary works that evoke oral embeddedness. Were these works composed for performance or for private reading? Before Bajid’s time the answer to this question would have been simple. But the fascination of the early Dadupanth with writing indicates a deeper involvement with textuality.37 Thus, in spite of the features that suggest oral performance, the variant readings in the manuscripts are minimal and do not indicate that the work underwent a phase of oral transmission. The only significant variation is the hesitation between Braj and Dhundhari forms in the Rājkirat. In contrast with the metrically correct Braj version, the Dhundhari variants suggest the scribes’ uncertainty with the less standardised Rajasthani idiom.


As the author of verses that circulate as sayings and the writer of tales that evoke oral narration, Bajid stands at the crossroads between performed and written literature. His rich manuscript tradition cannot hide the fact that his narratives still show their embeddedness in oral culture. Bajid used a language that was close to popular speech and genres that were linked to performance.

The approach to religious vocabulary and teaching in his narratives ranges from the didactic to the parodic. His effective characterisation and his clear structuring contributed to the popularity of his tales. Although not all his tales circulated widely in written form, he was clearly a very popular figure in the early modern literary field, whose works spanned the courtly, devotional, and popular domains. A revision of standard Hindi literary history that places greater emphasis on popular works and on performance cannot but pay serious consideration to a figure like him.

1 I am grateful for Dr Daksha Mistry for copying or photographing many of the manuscripts of Bajid’s works. Discussions with her greatly contributed to my understanding of Bajid. I also express my gratitude to Dr Kishori Lal and Prof Ramdev Shukla, who generously shared their deep knowledge of early Hindi by reading through the texts of several works, to Monika Horstmann for sending me a copy of the Pañcāmt and providing me with useful information about the Dadupanth, as well as to Francesca Orsini for her excellent editorial remarks. The Max Mueller Memorial Fund and the Sub-Faculty of South and Inner Asian Studies at the University of Oxford provided funding for several study tours in India between 2006 and 2009, where among other matters I discussed the poems of Bajid with local experts and copied and consulted his manuscripts.

2 The distinction between didactic purposes and purposes of providing pleasure was theorised by the Chicago School of Criticism, see Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, ed. by R.S. Crane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952); for criticism of this approach see W.C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).

3 See Imre Bangha, ‘Rekhta, Poetry in Mixed Language: The Emergence of Khari Boli Literature in North India’, in Before the Divide: Hindi and Urdu Literary Culture, ed. by Francesca Orsini (New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2010), pp. 56-58, 62-63; the central theme of Bajid’s rekhta, just as of the Bikaṭ kahānī, is viraha or the pain of separation in both its worldly and transcendental aspects.

4 As we shall see, unlike Dadu, Bajid wrote relatively few padas and often experimented with new poetic forms.

5 This work can be found on ff. 25r-26v of ms 6588 at Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute (RORI), Bikaner. The title of Bajid’s compositions is often preceded with Gun or Guṇ (virtuous), rather than the more generally used Śrī (glorious).

6 His earliest manuscript, containing eight works, is dated from 1600 (RORI Bikaner 6588), and we have a manuscript of his Guṇ Gañjanāmau from 1613 (RORI Jodhpur 13498(4)), and of his padas and Guṇ Ajāib-nāmau from 1636 (RORI Jodhpur 11583 (11)).

7 The date saṁvat satrahai sai satrahotarā has been interpreted as VS 1777 or VS 1770, but since the work presents no bhaktas later than the second generation after Dadu, a third interpretation VS 1717 (1660 CE) is most likely; see Agarchand Nahta, Rāghavdāskt bhaktamāl (Jodhpur: Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute, 1965), p. da; in The Hindī Biography of Dādū Dayāl (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988, p. 14), Winand Callewaert considers Raghavdas a fifth-generation disciple and is inclined to accept 1777 VS as the date of composition, relying on Swami Narayandas Pushkar, the modern editor of this work; but in The Life and Works of Raidās (New Delhi: Manohar, 1992 p. 20), Callewaert gives the date as 1770 VS.

8 Nahta (1965), pp. 201-02; Brajendrakumar Simhal (Sant Bājīd granthāvalī (Delhi: Dharika Publications, 2007), Vol. 1, p. 14) gives the variant avigata agama su (“the unfathomable existent”) instead of dādūjī dayāla guru. It is in all probability based on Rāghavdāskt bhaktamāl, ed. by Swami Narayandas (Jaipur: Shri Dadudayal Mahasabha, 1969), which I was not able to consult. This may well be the original reading without the didactic insertion of the name of the guru. All translations in this paper are mine.

9 Tarjuma-i-Mānakutūhala & Risāla-i-Rāgadarpaṇa, ed. and trans. by Shahab Sarmadee (New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1996), pp. 187-89. I am grateful to Katherine Schofield for pointing out this parallel to me.

10 Bajid’s arillas are quoted from Sukhadayal Dadu, Maharṣi Vāzidjī Mahārāj ke aril (Delhi: Shri Dadudayal Trust, 1976).

11 Bajid is mentioned in Atmavihari’s Dādūjanmalīlā and Daulatram’s Bhagavat-līlā advait-siddhānt, and in Swami Champaram’s Dṣṭānt-sākhī saṅgrah; all these works are referred to in Dadu (1976), pp. ka-dha.

12 By comparison, the Dadu Mahavidyalay in Naraina today has only six manuscripts of his but seemed to have fourteen in 1948, since Swami Mangaldas (in Pañcāmt, Jaipur: Shri Swami Laksmiram Trust, 1948) mentions only fourteen works of Bajid. Sukhdayal Dadu, the head of the Dadudayal Trust in Narnaul, devoted some twenty-five years to collecting Bajid’s works. By 1976 he had collected some 65 works; he wrote that in another Dadupanthi centre he had seen a thick book of Bajid but as soon as he started to consult it a “sadhu of that centre snatched away the book from my hands and in spite of repeated requests he did not let me see it”; Dadu (1976), p. na.

13 There are several poets by the name Gopal and the most likely candidate for the authorship of this quatrain is the court poet of Rajsingh of Ratanpur (Vilaspur) (r.1756-1776); see Madanmohan Gautam, ‘Piṅgalnirūpak ācārya’, in Hindī sāhitya kā bhat itihās: Rītikāl, ed. by Dr Nagendra (Banaras: Kashi Nagaripracharini Sabha, 1958), p. 483.

14 Chaturvedi, Javaharlal, ‘Saṅgīt samrāt svāmī Haridās’, Āj (20 March 1960) quoted in Kishorilal Gupta, Iśk dariyāv (Jhansi: Abhinav Prakashan, 2007), pp. 13-14.

15 The text seems to be corrupt here. The word gāṃs (“arrowhead”) is a reference to the popular doha that likens Bihari’s couplets to the boatman’s arrow.

16 The chandrayan is attested in Hemacandra’s Prāktapaiṅgalam and in Abdurrahman’s Sandeśarāsaka; see Gaurishankar Mishra ‘Dvijendra’, Hindī sāhitya kā chandovivecan (Patna: Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad, 1975), p. 79.

17 Kabir and Surdas are also credited with arillas; see ‘Dvijendra’ (1975), pp. 180, 243. Since these arillas are not found in critical editions but in sources such as the Kabīr vacanāvalī by “Hariaudh”, they are probably later additions to these corpora.

18 Their earliest publication, Vājīnd kī arelāṃ, ed. by Ayodhyasimh Visharad (1932), is referred to in Dadu (1976), p. dha; I have not been able to consult this book. Mangaldas (1948); Simhal (2007); and in Govind Rajnish, Pañcāmt aur Pañcraṃg: Madhyakālīn sant-kaviyoṃ kā prāmāṇik pāṭh-sampādan (Jaipur: Maya Prakashan Mandir, 2004). Visharad published 131 arillas, Mangaldas and Rajnish had 138, Dadu and, relying on him, Simhal had 185.

19 Osho, Kahe Vājīd pukār (Poona: Rebel Publishing House, 1995).

20 This date is established by Dalpat Rajpurohit in ‘The Dadupanth and Sarvangi literature’, in Bhakti in Current Research 2003-9: Early Modern Religious Literatures in North India, ed. by I. Bangha (New Delhi: Manohar, forthcoming), since Chote Sundardas (b.1594), a close associate of Rajjab, is not mentioned in it.

21 Jagannathdas of Amber is claimed to be a disciple of Dadu Dayal in the extended title of Nārāyandās Puṣkar 1985, thus suggesting that his anthology dates around the beginning of the seventeenth century.

22 According to Simhal (2007, pp. 53-54), Rajjab’s Sarvāṅgī quotes 18 padas, 39 sakhis and arillas, and one full composition (granth); the Sarvāṅgī of Gopaldas quotes 337 chandas and padas (including four full compositions); and Jagannathdas’s Gun Gañjanāmā quotes 61 sakhis and arillas. Considering that Simhal did not notice a fifth full composition in Gopaldas, the Śrīmukhnāmau, the total in that compilation goes up to 370. Callewaert (1993, p. 5) credits Bajid only with 433 lines in this work, but even that makes him the third most quoted Dadupanthi author in this anthology, surpassed only by Dadu Dayal (6061 lines) and Rajjab (467 lines). It should be mentioned that not all Sarvāṅgī manuscripts give the same texts and these numbers only refer to the versions that Dharm Pal Simhal (Sarvāṅgī: guṇ gañj-nāmā sahit. Jalandhar: Dipak Publishers, 1990) and Callewaert used.

23 See Hiralal Maheshvari, History of Rajasthani Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Academy, 1980), p. 126, and Simhal (2007), p. 51.

24 The some two dozen arillas in his earliest available masnucript (Bikaner RORI 6588) dating from 1600 (1657 VS), that is from the poet’s lifetime, are not yet organised in aṅgas, but most later manuscripts and the modern editions present them distributed into aṅgas. This structuring is so widely accepted that it may have been done under the poet’s eyes.

25 Mangaldas (1948), p. ka.

26 All quotations from the narratives are from the edition-in-progress by Bangha and Mistry.

27 His Utpatti-nāmau (Sarvāṅgī 106, 1-54), Goru-nāmau (113/2, 1-88), Tūtī-nāmau (119/2, 1-30), Śrīmukh-nāmau (16, 78-110), and his Nirañjan-nāmau. Its inclusion is claimed by Simhal (2007, p. 15) but I was not able to locate this work there. He also claims that, apart from this, Bajid’s 19 jhulna verses are included in the Upades kau aṅga of the Sarvāṅgī (115, 1-19), as well as Bajid’s Kāl kau aṅga (119, 1-26) and the 31 poems of his Māyā triṣnā kau aṅga—but I was not able to locate this work there.

28 This word can be perceived as the vernacularised form of kt “deeds” and also of kīrti “fame”—not without a tinge of irony.

29 A list of one hundred works by Bajid is given in Simhal (2007), pp. 56-64.

30 The emphasis on dialogue and repartee are in line with nineteenth-century stories like the Qiṣṣa qāżī-e Jaunpur. See F. Orsini, Print and Pleasure: Popular Literature and Entertaining Fictions in Colonial North India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009), ch. 4, pp. 128ff.

31 The meaning of this line is elusive. The above translation takes dhorī as “white, simple” (cf. Sanskrit dhavala). An alternative interpretation with the meaning “cattle” and the reading kandhana would give “It is (the shoulder of) cattle that one loads”, i.e. “You are an appropriate person for this load”.

32 It is found in J. Hertel, The Panchatantra: A Collection of Ancient Hindu Tales in the Recension Called Panchakhyanaka, and Dated 1199 A.D., of the Jaina Monk Purnabhadra (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1908), book V, tale 10; Viṣṇu Śarma: The Pañcatantra, trans. by C. Rajan (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 430; and A.W. Ryder, The Pañcatantra (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 465, though not in Edgerton’s influential reconstruction: Franklin Edgerton, The Panchatantra Reconstructed: An Attempt to Establish the lost Original Sanskrit Text (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1924).

33 Hertel (1908), book IV, tale 2; Edgerton (1924), book IV, tale 1. Just like in the story of the blind man and the hunchback, Bajid again downplays the gender issue by doing away with figures of the three she-donkeys waiting to get married to the prey donkey. In Bajid’s version the jackal herself offers to marry the donkey and lures him to become a prey of a lion.

34 This is how Ray Saheb Munshiram, the secretary to the Radhasoami guru Baba Sawan Singh (1858-1948), presented it in his diary to illustrate the workings of karma; see R.S. Munshiram, Ruhānī ḍāyrī, ed. by Sewa Singh (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, [n.d.]), pp. 143-204.

35 Ram Chandra Prasad, Tulasidasa’s Shriramacharitamanasa: The Holy Lake of the Acts of Rama (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990; reprint 1999), p. 611.

36 John Brockington, ‘Formulaic Expression in the Rāmāyaṇa: Evidence for Oral Composition?’, in The Epic: Oral and Written, ed. by L. Honko, J. Handoo, and J.M. Foley (Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages, 1998), p. 137.

37 A similar broadening of the performance towards the textual can be found also in the case of the seventeenth-century Bengali poet Alaol. As d’Hubert points out in his essay, “The literary self-awareness displayed by Alaol is also accompanied by the broadening of the theoretical paradigm of performance towards more textuality, a central place given to ‘speech’ (vachana) an the metadiscourse it may include”, pp. 425-26.