Performing Kabir’s "The Parrot and the Burning Tree"


This Sunday, I performed this song in movement for a function commemorating the 10th year of the Gujarat massacre through the work of the great poet Kabir.

I wish to evoke the notable reference in the song where the Gods come out and magically save the day. I wish to question this divine intervention and perhaps reinterpret it as the deep and abiding faith that activists must keep in order to push onwards, often times acting as the sole agent for change. Many a time no such intervention comes and faith may be compromised. This song speaks to the best of a loving spirit, but the want of community support when not adequately harnessed can lead to a person’s destruction and this truth can never be underweighed.

It does take a village. Video posted by Swapna Kollu. Umang Kumar  helped me find Aarti Toshniwal who translated the Marwari-Urdu song for me 😉

Photo by Frederike Alwes

Shabnam Virmani storytells and sings this Kabir song

Video below. Cue @ 20:37 exquisite story-telling with song

I offer the transcript here with some poetic license 😉

Those of you who know MARWARI-URDU and can transliterate for me (see MARWARI-URDU sections marked below), MUCH appreciated

Oh my friend, whom should I love (aaye mahari heili rey, kin sang kara mein snehe)… who have I done with   .. oh friend (kin sang kara maine he haili re) …dava lago re hinar maroma…
Bird is sitting with his wings spreaded while I am burning (panchi reh batho ya he haili amaro jalo re pank bhakhayi ro)..  You have wings, you fly away(tum uri pareko jao ye haili re)
I ate fruits, soiled your leaves, moved from branch to branch.. you burn and I fly, what is the point of living
(phal khada re, pan bherodia, ramyi ya dalo dal.. haili he, tam jalo main ub ru, jibro kitro ko par)
(haili re dava bujho(understand) re jhavar) … cloud burst with milk (doodhe boodha megh.. haili re) Kabir says to dharamdas- God (kahat kabira dharamita)
everyday my love is new… whom should I love
(nit nit ye naval ye..haili he… kinsa karo mein snehe.. haili re)







This is a Marwari folk song in Rajasthan with the signature of Kabir

Also a parable from Buddhist traditions

and a Native American folk story


This story-song is representative of how things that inspire us keep spreading




The story of this song is that of a brave little parrot who lived in a forest that caught fire

All the birds and the animals of the forest were fleeing

But this brave little parrot decided not to flee

She came and sat on the tree


The story tells the conversation between the bird and the tree


The tree says


“You have wings”


So the bird turns around to the tree and says


“I ate you’re your fruits, I soiled your leaves, I played from branch to branch

You burn and I fly away? You live and love but once”




So what does this brave and utterly foolish and courageous parrot do?

She goes and plunges herself into the lake nearby

Comes back over this blazing forest fire

And flaps her wings


Two three drops of water fall


And then she goes back to the lake

Plunges again

Comes back over this blazing forest fire

And again flaps her wings

And again two three drops of water fall


And she keeps doing this

Her friends, the other animals and birds, who were fleeing start scoffing at her and laughing at her

Saying “What do you think you are doing?”

And she turns to them and says

“I’m trying to do what I can”




Just then, the gods are passing by in the clouds

The Buddhas

And one of them happens to see this brave parrot


He sweeps down into the forest in the form of an eagle in order to look at this curiosity – the might of this bird

And he is incredibly moved

He begins to cry


And when the gods weep, what happens?

It rains


And in this version of this song, it says


“The clouds burst with milk”


“Everyday my love is new”




The main refrain of the song is


“O my dear friend

Whom should I love?”


So here’s a song about love about commitment about passion about courage

About being in the here and now and being responsive to what you know needs to be done

Irrespective of 5 year plans that will tell you it can’t be done




This is about quenching the fires raging around us




And quenching the fires raging within us



Shabnam Virmani’s TED Talk on Kabir Project