Kabir’s work lends itself to topics that range from subtle inner states to political argument and activism—the relation between the religious-spiritual and social-political. An iconoclastic mystic who criticized organized religion, sectarian prejudice, caste, violence, deception and hypocrisy, Kabir also speaks of self-knowledge, deep inner experience, confrontation with death, and connection with the divine. Ambiguously situated among Hindu, Muslim, Sufi, and yogic traditions, he rejects religious identities and urges fearless awakening.
Bodies of Song is the first scholarly work in any language that studies the poetry and culture of the still popular Kabir through the lens of oral-performative traditions. It draws on ethnographic research as well as on the history of written collections.
It focuses on texts—their transmission by singers, the dynamics of textual forms in oral performance, and the connections between texts in oral forms, written forms, and other media. It attends to context, reception, and community. While demonstrating how texts work in oral-musical performance, it analyzes discourses of authenticity and provides a repertoire of Kabir songs as they might be heard in Central India in the early 2000s. Professor Hess considers theories of ‘orality’, looks at social perspectives, and examines communities of interpretation—including the Kabir Panth (a religious sect), Eklavya (a secular educational NGO), and urban fans of Kabir.
Linda Hess is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Stanford University. Her various books include The Bijak of Kabir (translations and essays), Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabir, and articles on interpretation and performance of the Ramayana.