Meaning: noun: Bamboo plant, a giant woody grass, which is grown chiefly in the tropics.
ਕਬੀਰ ਬਾਂਸੁ ਬਡਾਈ ਬੂਡਿਆ ਇਉ ਮਤ ਡੂਬਹੁ ਕੋਇ॥
kabeer baaṅs badaaee boodiaa iu mat doobahu koi.
Kabir! Let no one drown (fall) the way the bamboo tree is drowned (withers and dies) by its pride of greatness. – Bhagat Kabir, Guru Granth Sahib, 1365
Message: Most plants, which remain in the vicinity of the sandalwood tree, take on some fragrance of the sandalwood and become fragrant. However, there is one exception. The bamboo tree doesn’t acquire any fragrance, no matter how close it may be to the sandalwood plant.
Bhagat Kabir’s poetic mind uses this distinctive feature of the bamboo as a way of explaining the danger of allowing one’s strength i.e. power (physical power, beauty, wealth, status, etc.) to result in conceit.
Bamboo is tall and thin but hollow from inside. He is using that as a metaphor for humans who may be popular, rich, religious, and good to the outside world but inwardly could be, ‘hollow’, devoid of virtues.
Are we not like the bamboo tree as well? Even after being equipped with good education, we fail to acquire virtues. Bhagat Kabir reminds us to subdue our egoism and reach out humbly to enrich ourselves with the fragrance of goodness. Let us cultivate humility, so that we are not ruined by our conceit, like the bamboo tree.
ਮੈਲਾਗਰ ਸੰਗੇਣ ਨਿੰਮੁੁ ਬਿਰਖ ਸਿ ਚੰਦਨਹ॥ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਬਸੰਤੋ ਬਾਂਸੋ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਹੰ ਬੁਧਿ ਨ ਬੋਹਤੇ॥
The bitter trees like neem, growing near the sandalwood tree, become just like the sandalwood tree. Nanak! Though the bamboo tree also grows near it, yet it does not pick up its fragrance, due to its vanity of being tall. – Guru Arjan Sahib, Guru Granth Sahib, 1360
Notes: One of the largest members of the grass family, the bamboo tree, is also the fastest growing plant on earth. It has its own mythic and symbolic significance and uses across various cultures and traditions. The hollow jointed stem of the bamboo plant is used as a cane or to make furniture and implements. Here, however, it is represented as a sign of egoism – drowned by the pride of being tall and slim.
Etymology: From Sanskrit vaňsh → Pali vaňs→ Punjabi vaňjh/baaṅsand Hindi/Urdu baaṅs/baṁbu.
The word bamboo is believed to come from the Kannada term bambu, which was introduced to English through Indonesian language and Malay.