Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Begging Bowl …

… Not limited by Centuries or Geography

Begging bowl

परदेसी कै घाघरै चहु दिस लागी आग
खिंथा जल कोइला भई तागे आँच न लाग

खिंथा जल कोइला भई खापर फूट मफूट
जोगी बपुड़ा खेलिओ आसन रही बिभूत

(The robe of the stranger-soul has caught fire on all four sides
The cloth has been burnt and reduced to charcoal, but the fire did not touch the thread of the soul

The cloth has been burnt and reduced to charcoal, and the begging bowl is shattered into pieces
The poor Yogi has played out his game, only ashes remain on his seat)1

That was the greatest fakir of all time - Kabir - equating *mind* to a begging bowl (khaapar)... the kind that is always keeps filling up with desire till the day it 'cracks'. The delicious pun on khaapar, meaning both the skull and a begging bowl, adds layers of meaning to this doha

Legends related to Buddha use the begging bowl as a symbol for non-attachment.

For Mir, the eyes were a begging bowl

कासा-ए-चश्म ले के जूँ नरगिस
हम ने दीदार की गदाई की

(having taken the begging-bowl of the eye, like the narcissus,
we begged for a vision/sight)2

Ghalib hinted at the begging bowl (kaasa) being the heart, which gets illumined by mystic enlightenment

ज़कात-ए-हुस्न दे ऐ जलवा-ए-बीनिश कि मिहर-आसा
चिराग़-ए-ख़ाना-ए-दरवेश हो कासा गदाई का

(give alms of beauty, oh glory/appearance of sight, so that like the sun
a begging bowl may be the lamp of the Darvesh's house)3

In this very century, Bono brought in a similar imagery where at the 'Moment of Surrender', the *body* was a begging bowl

I've been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body's now a begging bowl
That's begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
To the rhythm of my soul
To the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

Moment of Surrender - U2

Around the same time, Ilaiyaraja too called the body a begging bowl (pichchai paathiram). The song was used by Bala to be filmed on beggars for his film Naan Kadavul (2009), not just any beggar but physically and mentally challenged beggars controlled by a cruel Don of a begging mafia. The video is quite graphic and a little difficult to watch, but portions showing these exploited beggars snatching away some moments of fun from a horrendous daily routine are touching.

Pichchai Paathiram - Naan Kadavul (Tamil, 2009)–Madhu Balakrishna–Ilaiyaraja


  1. – Guru Granth Sahib
  2. Tumultuous Poetry: A Selection and Detailed Examination of the Ghazals of Mir bu Shamsur Rahman Faruqi – extract sourced from Frances W.  Pritchett’s work on Mir
  3. Frances W. Pritchett’s Ghalib site – Ghazal 24, Verse 3