Sur Das: Poet, Singer, Saint

Sur Das: Poet, Singer, Saint

Sur Das: Poet, Singer, Saint

Sur Das: Poet, Singer, Saint

Excerpt

In May of 1978, Indians from Calcutta to Bombay observed the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Sūr Dās, the famed blind poet of Hindi literature. In India the event was heralded by a burst of new publications celebrating the poet's life and works, adding to an already substantial store. These portraits of Sūr differ somewhat in perspective and detail, but their colors are always drawn from traditional life stories of the poet and from the great ocean of poetry attributed to him, the Sūr Sāgar.

This book will search for a portrait too, but it is a hidden portrait, an image that has heretofore been concealed behind centuries of encrustation and retouching. We shall attempt the task of cleaning that historical canvas, not only by critically examining the legends that have grown up about the poet's life, but by discriminating between those poems in the Sūr Sāgar that can reasonably be said to have come from circles not too far distant from the poet himself, and those that were added later. The latter are by far the majority, so the "Sūr" who emerges in our portrait— the author of these early poems, doubtless to some extent a collective entity—is thinner and sparer than the more ample Sūr that traditional scholarship depicts. Our profile of Sūr will, of course, be selective and subjective. When so much has been lost to time and so much added by it, nothing else is possible; photography is out of the question. But the techniques, concerns, and commitments evident in the old poems upon which we shall rely—compositions of our hidden "Sūr"—are definite and consistent enough to form a coherent image of the poet. A characteristic physiognomy emerges from the darkness at the edges.

This portrait will be not only literary but religious, for all of Sūr's poetry is devoted in one way or another to Krishna, the deft and mischievous cowherd god who has come more than any other figure to dominate the artistic and religious attentions of India in the last half millennium. The distinction between the realms of . . .

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