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Translated from the Hindi by Surabhi Katyal

Puppet of Clay

Puppet of clay,

Dancing away

Peeps and peeks, hears and speaks

Runs around, bounds and leaps.

When it achieves something, it feels proud,

But when Maya leaves, tears come around.

Mind, word and deed all get lured in

Into this want

Where will they settle when it all falls apart?

Raidas says the world is a gamble,

And he feels affection ample 

For this puppet of clay

Just gambling away.

O Kalari

O Kalari!

Hand me a cup, 

Cup of that liquor,

A cup that will mellow this Yogi (seeker).

Says Kalari,

I will.

I will give you the cup,

A cup you can sup

And take your head 

In its stead.

Hey Kalari, 

What have you done? 

This exchange,

How have you spun? 

A head for a cup?

You have such pluck!

Says Kalari 

The cup is priceless 

Against the head

And yet, 

People are prepared,

(Not despaired)

to detach their neck 

by hanging it 

on a branch.

Oh, look at you blanch!

The one who consumes,

Oh, subsumes,

The contents of the cup:

Will witness the sun

And the moon in bloom

And will never wilt

Or die.


The furnace swells

And overflows.

The nectar, 

it wells

Out from its source. 

Raidas says 

Drink this liquor,

Or is it nectar?

All that matters

Is it faces the face of the Guru.

Note: The Kalar/Kalal/Kalwar are an Indian caste in the northern, central and western regions, traditionally associated with the distillation and selling of liquor.

My Lord, You, the Sandalwood Tree

My lord, you! 

You, the sandalwood tree

And we, the common,

Tree of Arandi (castor)

Oh, we rise higher

In your company.

Your perfumed scent 

Masks our smell

Until your scent 

Is all that is present.

We are vice, 

You, beneficence. 

There is a reason we stay

In your refuge. 

You are silken, 


Like the song of the 

golden oriole.

We are but poor,

Insignificant critters. 

So, we stick close

to you my lord, 

Like how the fly hovers

Besides the ambrosial nectar.

Our caste is small,

Repute also small,

Small is our existence,

We did not serve Ram

Says Raidas chamar (leather-worker).

My Caste

My caste is the famous chamar,

yet my heart

is filled with the essence of 

Govind and Ram.

Saints don’t drink liquor, 

Not even made of Ganges

And its holy water. 


the prestige of Ganges

remains pristine

even as one pours down liquor 

down its streams. 

Oh, the liquor

becomes clean.

In the same vein,

’tis a decree

that the palm tree

is unholy 

like the lowly, 

wandering crow.

Devotees though, 

inscribe the name of God

onto the same palm’s leaf

and it forgoes

the ill luck and odds,

and receives

prayers, bows, and kowtows.

The non-righteous 

do unravel 

the tethers of the boat.

The condemned and the pious

—alike and together—

find themselves soaked

in their bid to cross

the waters.

Raidas invokes

The sound of Ra

And all the saints cross over,

The waters

Without qualms.

Note: In the context of Raidas’ entire body of work, the sound of Ra most likely refers to the Nirguna (formless, literally without attributes) Ram.

Sant Raidas (around 15th century) is a leading Bhakti-era poet and singer. He was born into an untouchable caste of leather-workers and, like the weaver-saint-poet Kabir, practiced the profession, and went on to include his caste ‘chamar’ in songs to refer to himself (two of the translations here are examples of that acknowledgment). Raidas’ songs are also extant in the modern world with Begumpura Shehar ka Naun, sung as a Gurbani, included in Guru Granth Sahib, to the popular bhajan Tum Chandan Hum Paani. However, translations of him are scant, especially in comparison to the vast body of work of Kabir. He is also the central figure within the Ravidassia religious movement.

Surabhi Katyal is a writer, translator, psychotherapist, and researcher based in Rajasthan, India. She also identifies as a spoonie because of her decade long chronic pain and psychosocial disability. Surabhi is currently translating the works of Sant Raidas and Maithili Sharan Gupt. She is also officially translating acclaimed Tamil author A. Vennila’s poetry collection A Playground for Musical Notes into Hindi. She is hoping that her cats will let her focus more on her writing and translation projects (unlikely).

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