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Talking Stick

Can You Solve This One?
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 57




Divine intimations often come in the form of riddles.

Common everyday words are presented and arranged in a way that appear to make no sense prima facie, but veil hidden and deep spiritual meaning.

One such riddle from gurbani is presented below for the readers to mull over - and decode the meaning.

pahilā pūṯ picẖẖairī mā▫ī.

First the son, then his mother.


gur lāgo cẖele kī pā▫ī. ||1||

The Guru at the feet of the disciple.


ek acẖambẖa▫o sunhu ṯumĥ bẖā▫ī.

This is a wonder, my brother!


Ḏekẖaṯ singẖ cẖarāvaṯ gā▫ī. ||1|| rahā▫o.

A lion as a cowherd. ||Pause||


tal kī macẖẖulī ṯarvar bi▫ā▫ī.

A fish living on a tree


dekẖaṯ kuṯrā lai ga▫ī bilā▫ī. ||2||

A cat carrying away a dog.


talai re baisā ūpar sūlā.

The branches are below, and the roots are above.


tis kai ped lage fal fūlā. ||3||

The trunk of that tree bears fruits and flowers.


gẖorai cẖar bẖais cẖarāvan jā▫ī.

Riding a horse, the buffalo goes out out to graze


bāhar bail gon gẖar ā▫ī. ||4||

The bull is away, while his load has come home.


kahaṯ Kabīr jo is paḏ būjẖai.

Says Kabir, one who understands this hymn, 


rām ramaṯ ṯis sabẖ kicẖẖ sūjẖai. ||5||9||22||

And sings the Song of the Spirit, unravels the mystery.





-     Please do not give quotes from gurbani without a translation in English and a citation (page #, line #). [You may also want to read the article "Loose Lips Sink Ships" which is currently on the homepage as well, on this issue.] Please use short quotes.

-     Please be brief, and not repetitive.

-     Please do not get argumentative or personal. 

-     Please remain focused on the issue/ question/ topic in question.

-     Please do not be preachy. The intent is to share and learn, not teach.

-    Please give us your own thoughts and opinions, not passages picked up from, e.g., google searches.  

-    If you follow these suggestions, it will help you get your comments posted ... and read.



August 15, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Karam (Ahmedabad, India), August 15, 2011, 10:38 AM.

Waiting for some enlightened soul to explain these lines.

2: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), August 15, 2011, 11:17 AM.

In this shabad, there is a description about the state of a person and references to various tendencies with which the person seems to be living. A person who is fundamentally a son of the Creator {Parmesar} is immediately under the influence of maya. And under the influence of maya, he is busy in satisfying his tendencies only and in doing so, it appears as if the lion is grazing the cows. The person was supposed to live with the Root [Naam], but instead has become entangled with the lures of the world. At the end, the message is that anyone who can understand this state about himself in Naam Simran, achieves enlightenment.

3: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 15, 2011, 12:08 PM.

I appreciate that the Editor has inserted general guidelines as a reminder to readers. Seems to me (personally) that the discussion on this forum is compliant and consistent with them - for the most part. We all get carried away now and then, and it is difficult to avoid some repetition.

4: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), August 15, 2011, 8:49 PM.

Kabir, the basket weaver, was so imaginative. If Kabir and Salvador Dali or Magritte had been contemporaries and met, these artists would have worked together to put these loaded these compositions rich with surrealistic and beyond-the-imagination imageries - also in pictorial form. but the imagery basically means that the 'Lord' can and will create anything and if we don't get it - that's because man does not have the mental capacity to get it. Our mighty Lord, through the works of some artists, is to be seen and understood as kind of showing off. Those who get it just shut up and bow. Those who don't - don't.

5: Gurmeet Kaur (Canada), August 15, 2011, 10:43 PM.

I think I got it! Kabir is describing things that go against the natural order. To go against the natural order is to go against God, because His hukam is law. It is both absurd and comical to imagine any other law but His. Am I warm or cold, Ravinder ji?

6: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 16, 2011, 10:25 AM.

Gurmeet ji - are you warm or cold? Well, it all depends on where you are on that spectrum. But you are right about Kabir ji describing things that are not the norm. There are multiple ways to interpret this composition of Kabir and that is what makes it so interesting. More later.

7: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 7:30 AM.

This passage from Kabir ji belongs to a literary form called "ulat basi" or upside down language, which I believe was a genre of poetry used by the Nath yogis (and from where Kabir borrowed it) to express the ineffable. For all our desire to be logical and precise, Truth cannot be pinned down - hence the use of enigma, paradox, music and parables to approach it in a non-linear (non-logical) way.

8: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 8:01 AM.

Here is my understanding of the passage: the son (individual soul/spirit) by virtue of being divine, was here first; the Mai or mother (the term for Maya) appeared later. The Guru (again, the divine in us) has submitted to the disciple (mind). It is an astonishing sight to behold: the lion-like king (our authentic nature) is in the service of cow-like slaves (here used for the senses). Instead of living in the pure water of the sangat, the fish (us) is caught in the branches of the worldly tree (parpanch). The dog (symbol of service/seva) has been hijacked by the cat of desire (trishna). We have lost our "santokh" (contentment). The inverted tree symbolizes our upside down life. The buffalo of lust (vasna) has taken the reins of the horse (our mind). The result is that patience (the bull) has flown out of our existence and we are left with a pile of desire/lust. We will talk about the last couple of lines later. Waiting to hear from others.

9: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 1:37 PM.

We need scholars to help us out on this one. Where are they? I like the explanation in #7. We need a non-linear approach to truth. Just like an optical illusion, we can talk (or read, even teach) about truth in great details, without really 'getting' it. It helps, sometimes, to be stumped. Parroting the 'same old', great truths in the gurdwara everyday turns them into mere cliches at a very early stage in our life, rendering our ignorance incurable, until we can grow up and adopt a fresh approach. Sorry if I sound preachy.

10: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 1:39 PM.

I notice that there are a couple of other similar shabads. In one such shabad, Kabir ji has dropped a hint: "dekhoh logaa kal ko bhaao" - meaning "such is the conduct in KalYug" - [GGS:1194.3]. Another one by Guru Arjan is on page 326. These shabads are more philosophical than devotional. Another example, "Anamarriaa munndal baajai", meaning "the skinless drum plays" [GGS:657.10]. Gurbani avoids philosophizing. Instead, we are given riddles to solve by plugging in our own philosophy. The best fit wins.

11: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 1:42 PM.

Our interpretation will change as we grow, but here is another version of the translation: First the son, then the mother (this indicates a reversal); Guru at the feet of the disciple (also a reversal of 'normal' behavior); Strange that lion herds the cows (lion turns gentle, relinquishing the role of a predator, or just another impossibility); Fish living on a tree (this idiom has been used by Namdev ji: "Jal ki maachli charrhai khajoor" [GGS:718.11] meaning "attempting something that we are not capable of"); Cat carrying a dog (another role reversal); Upside down tree bearing fruits and flowers (possible meaning: our pleasure/fulfillment appears to be coming from a wrong source or conduct); Grazing a buffalo (a poor man's cow) while riding a horse (a rich man's ride); The bull (the carrier) is still out but the load (appears to have) reached home. Solving these will help understanding Naam.

12: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 17, 2011, 1:56 PM.

Gurmeet Kaur seems to be getting the drift and thus, warm in my opinion.

13: Gurmeet Kaur (Canada), August 17, 2011, 4:26 PM.

Ha...ha...ha! Very funny. Intriguing interpretations by you both. Each thing being mentioned is a metaphor that contains a deeper meaning. Sometimes I wish religious texts would be more straight forward. In an attempt to appeal to the heart, I think the writings leave too much to interpretation, thus allowing people to manipulate them for their own purpose.

14: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), August 18, 2011, 3:48 AM.

Since the entire gurbani is in lyric form, creating a lyric by using metaphoric word references is one of the ways of conveying the message. The metaphors are not elusive to those who are familiar with gurbani, and therefore do not cause any confusion. I fully agree with the meanings as denoted by S. Ravinder Singh in #8.

15: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), August 18, 2011, 7:48 AM.

In essence, this passage speaks to our lives being "upside down," that is, we are not living as we were designed to. But, with Naam, reversal is possible and we can return to our authentic state and live life to the fullest. Naam makes the seemingly impossible, possible.

16: Yuktanand Singh (MI, U.S.A.), August 18, 2011, 10:46 AM.

It appears to me that Ravinder Singh (#15) has interpreted the essence of this shabad. Vital aim of such riddles may be to reverse our view, to make us step back and look at the picture from another angle. I feel that with this understanding (as in #15), any interpretation that works for us may be fine. Correct translation of a shabad is no less important. The translation I gave (even if we ignore the parenthetic notes) is different from all others. Apparently, I cannot understand it properly at this time.

17: Balbir Singh (Germany), August 18, 2011, 11:43 AM.

The Guru's hymns convey the truth. The consciousness to realize this truth grows with true Naam Simran.

18: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 21, 2011, 4:56 PM.

Such stanzas by Bhagat Kabir are excellently explained by Prof Darshan Singh ji on his Guru Granth Sahib Academy website. [EDITOR: S. Mohan Singh ji recently suffered a stroke, but is mercifully recovering well. Our prayers are with him for his full and early recover.]

19: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), August 22, 2011, 2:48 AM.

I pray for the speedy recovery of S. Mohan Singh ji.

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The Talking Stick Colloquium # 57"

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