Surdas
(Late 15th to late 16th century)
   Hindi poet-saint
   Surdas was a poetic of mythic status in North India born in a village called Sihi, which was prob-ably near BRINDAVAN, judging from the Braj dialect of his poems. Most of the biographical details of Surdas’s life are in question.
   Surdas is credited with writing Sursagar (The Ocean of Sur), a song of about 5,000 verses. As with many poet-saints in India, most of his poetry was written to be sung at public events; it is likely that these “songs” changed for each performance. His extant work is probably the careful textual recording of students and admirers. As is also the case in Indian tradition, his work may well include compositions of genius written by other authors that seemed worthy of inclusion among his. In the end this lack of clear biographical detail matters little in the perspective of the brilliant work represented under the name of Sur.
   All the stories of his life agree that Surdas was blind, but there they part company. One story puts him at the court of the great Muslim king Akbar. In the other he was a follower of VALLABHA, the great devotee of KRISHNA, of Brindavan. It is said that Vallabha encouraged Sur to write about the child Krishna’s divine play.
   Sur’s poetry is one of pure devotion. Millions of people in North India know his songs. His poetry is used for the temple liturgy of the Vallab-hites. Classical vocalists always include his works in their repertoire, as do village singers. Many oth-ers read, recite, or sing his verses.
   Further reading: Kenneth E. Bryant, Poems to the Child-God: Structures and Strategies in the Poetry of Surdas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); John Stratton Hawley, Three Bhakti Voices: Mirabai, Surdas, and Kabir in Their Time and Ours (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005); Usha Nilsson, trans. and ed., Surdas: Poems (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1982).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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