Language Is Like Flowing Water.

R. Devraj of the excellent blog Dick & Garlick has posted about an interesting bit of poetry:

भाखा बहता नीर: language is like flowing water

I’m not too sure where I came first across this line of Kabir’s, which describes his views on language in a pithy epigrammatic style, contrasting the dead Sanskrit of the ancient religious texts with bhakha or bhasha (literally ‘language’), the colloquial living language of his time which he used in his own verse.’संस्करित है कूप जल, भाखा बहता नीर’ it reads: Sanskrit is like stagnant water in a well, but bhakha, the true language of the people, changes constantly and cannot be bound by rules, like flowing water. That’s a lot to say in just six words, and I’m curious what the second line of the couplet could be. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it online. If any reader can provide it, I’ll be most grateful.

I know what it is to need one’s curiosity satisfied, so I thought I’d repost the question here and hope someone can answer it. Also, I’d like to be able to quote the couplet, which is very relevant to my interests!


  1. Maybe here.

  2. Good lord, that was fast! Looks like that must be it.

  3. Greg Pandatshang says

    Vernacular is like flowing water, true, but there’s no cause to smear trusty old Sanskrit to make the point!

  4. Well water isn’t so bad!

  5. Depends. My upstate property has two wells: a sweet, shallow, low-pressure and variable one, and a deep one whose water stinks of sulfide and contaminates everything with rust. We use the deep well for washing and drink bottled water (bought in bulk, 5 gallons ~ 19 liters). I suppose we could tap off the pipe from the shallow well and haul water from the basement, but it seems like too much work.

  6. Thanks a ton! I’ve updated my post with the verses, along with a loose translation. Over here.

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Just as water quality varies from well to well, whether groundwater is better or worse than surface water from a nearby river/stream (either aesthetically or epidemiologically) is extremely variable. I suppose a well might seem stagnant if it wasn’t having water drawn from it frequently enough in sufficient quantities? (Your active-use-of-dead-language metaphor goes here.)

  8. (KʼelHä wetʼei ʕaKʼun kähla).

  9. Proto-Nostratic!

    K̥elHä wet̥ei ʕaK̥un kähla
    k̥aλai palhʌ-k̥ʌ na wetä
    śa da ʔa-k̥ʌ ʔeja ʔälä
    ja-k̥o pele t̥uba wete

    Language is a ford through the river of time,
    it leads us to the dwelling of those gone before;
    but he cannot arrive there,
    who fears deep water.

    Alas, I fear deep water.

  10. Could ‘stepwell’ be a possible interpretation – Sanskrit as something formal and magnificent but unchanging?

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