On the example of some texts attributed to the 15th-century poet-saint Kabīr, the paper contests the postmodern claim that each received version is a poetically beautiful, polished text. In all probability all received versions have undergone a long phase of oral transmission before being committed to writing and they are sometimes the outcome of textual corruption resulting in inconsistent reading or in poetic looseness and redundancy. On the basis of prosody and a comparison of variant versions, reconstruction of some earlier text is possible. It is argued that the poems may have been composed for a metrically correct recitation and when they became songs set to musical moods and rhythms they have lost their strict metrical frame under the licenses used by the singers. Amplification can also be detected on a higher level since sometimes entire lines were invented or borrowed. By detecting instances of amplification a more concise and more powerful early text can be reconstructed. The reconstruction of the early text in turn can open up a way to posit the later variants into a relationship with each other and to see ideological motivating forces behind changes such as ‘bhaktification’.
The paper shows on the example of Vājīd, a poet once popular but neglected in colonial and nationalist historiography, that rich treasures of Indian literature still await unearthing and philological work. The extraordinary popularity of Vājīd (fl. 1600) in Hindi before the advent of western modernism is shown by the high number of manuscripts containing his works and by the fact that he was considered to be the best exponent of the poetic form arilla. Hardly anything of his more than hundred and twenty works is published today and he is scarcely mentioned in modern literary histories. The paper examines early sectarian and secular sources on Vājīd’s life, compares them with Vājīd’s poetry and with early manuscript material, follows up his modern reception and presents the range of this poet’s works.