Modern South Asian Studies seminar HT21 Wk 5: Encountering Kabir: From Old Manuscripts to Living Oral Traditions

Conveners: Imre Bangha, Polly O'Hanlon, and Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Linda Hess (Stanford)


I don’t use ink or paper,

this hand never touched a pen.

The great truths of four ages

Kabir tells with his mouth alone.

If Kabir, the great 15th-century Hindi poet of Banaras, didn’t write anything, how do we now have thousands of poems in his name?  This talk will offer a history of Kabir texts and their audiences, concluding with a closer look at the contents of a Rajasthani manuscript dated 1614-21, which Linda Hess is currently translating. There will be a poetry reading!


Linda Hess is a scholar-translator whose life-work has centered on the 15th-century poet Kabir. Her publications include The Bijak of Kabir (with Shukdeo Singh, Oxford University Press, 2002; orig. 1983); Singing Emptiness: Kumar Gandharva Performs the Poetry of Kabir (Seagull Books, 2009); and Bodies of Song: Kabir Oral Traditions and Performative Worlds in North India (Oxford University Press/USA and Permanent Black/India, 2015). She has also written about Tulsidas and the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Currently she is translating a large collection of Kabir poetry from a Rajasthani manuscript dated 1614-21, to be published in the Murty Classical Library of India series. Linda taught in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University for 21 years, retiring in 2017.

Pre-registration required. Please visit to book either for this seminar or the whole series.