Kabir – Poet, Saint

Kabir (1398 – 1448 AD) was an Indian mystic poet and saint,  born to Neru and Neema in Varanasi , whose writings influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement and his verses are found in Sikhism’s scripture Adi Granth.kabir-poet-saint

Kabir is a radical saint questioned every religion and asked them to think before following beliefs and traditions. He is social reformer, and awakener

  • True God is with the person who is on the path of righteousness, considered all creatures on earth as his own self, and who is passively detached from the affairs of the world.
  • To know God, meditate with the mantra Rāma, Rāma.

Facts

  • His early life was in a Muslim family, but he was strongly influenced by his teacher, Ramananda.
  • He had two disciples Bhāgodās and Dharmadās.
  • Songs of Kabir were collected by Kshitimohan Sen from mendicants across India, these were then translated to English by Rabindranath Tagore.
  • New English translations of Songs of Kabir is done by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
  • Kabir’s legacy continues to be carried forward by the Kabir panth (“Path of Kabir”), a religious community that recognises him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat This community was founded centuries after Kabir died over the 17th century. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are estimated to be around 10 million.
  • Kabir is conservative on women rights, questioned on traditional practices.
  • Kabir’s verses were incorporated into Adi Granth, the scripture of Sikhism, with verses attributed to Kabir constituting the largest non-Sikh contribution.
  • Classical singer, late Kumar Gandharva, is recognized for his rendering of Kabir’s poetry.
  • Documentary filmmaker Shabnam Virmani, from the Kabir Project, has produced a series of documentaries and books tracing Kabir’s philosophy, music and poetry in present-day India and Pakistan.

Kabir is known for being critical of both Hinduism and Islam, stating that the former were misguided by the Vedas and the latter by the Quran, and questioning their meaningless rites of initiation such as the sacred thread and circumcision respectively. During his lifetime, he was threatened by both Hindus and Muslims for his views. When he died, both Hindus and Muslims he had inspired claimed him as theirs.

Story around Kabir birth:

  • Kabir was born to a Brahmin unwed mother in Varanasi, by a seedless conception and delivered through the palm of her hand, who then abandoned him in a basket floating in a pond, and baby Kabir was picked up then raised by a Muslim family.
  • Another story – Kabir is born and brought up in a family of Muslim weavers.
  • He was conversant with Nath-panthi basic attitudes and philosophy than with the Islamic orthodox tradition.

About his marriage:

  • Some legends say that Kabir never married and led a celibate’s life.
  • Some say that Kabir was married to Dhania, had one son named Kamal and a daughter named

Kabīr maṭha located in the back alleys of Kabir Chaura, Varanasi celebrates his life and times.

Poetry

Kabir composed poems in Hindi, Avadhi, Braj, and Bhojpuri languages, a pithy and earthy style, fused with imagery. They cover various aspects of life and call for a loving devotion for God.

  • Kabir Vanis (Banis) – Verbally composed poems of wisdom by his followers. These include songs and couplets, called dohe, śalokā or sākhī
  • Literary works references – Kabir Bijak, Kabir Parachai, Sakhi Granth, Adi Granth (Sikh), and Kabir Granthawali
  • Kabir’s poems were verbally composed and transmitted viva voce through the 17th century.
  • Kabir Bijak was compiled and written down for the first time in the 17th century.

1915 – Rabindranath Tagore’s English translation and compilation One Hundred Poems of Kabir was first published.

Philosophy

  • Questioning the need for religion, rather than attempting to propose either Hindu-Muslim unity or an independent synthesis of a new religious tradition.
  • Rejected the hypocrisy and misguided rituals evident in various religious practices, including those in Islam and Hinduism.
  • Seeking of the Absolute, nirguna which, is same as “the Upanishadic concept of the Brahman-Atman and the monistic Advaita interpretation of the Vedantic tradition, which denies any distinction between the soul (within a human being) and God.
  • If God is within, then that would be a call to abolish all external bhakti. Nirguna Brahman is like Adi Shankara’s theories on Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, with some differences.
  • Reflect a “protest against social discrimination and economic exploitation”, they present the perspective of the poor and powerless, not the rich and powerful.

Saints I’ve seen both ways.
Hindus and Muslims don’t want discipline, they want tasty food.
The Hindu keeps the eleventh-day fast, eating chestnuts and milk.
He curbs his grain but not his brain, and breaks his fast with meat.
The Turk [Muslim] prays daily, fasts once a year, and crows “God!, God!” like a cock.
What heaven is reserved for people who kill chickens in the dark?
Instead of kindness and compassion, they’ve cast out all desire.
One kills with a chop, one lets the blood drop, in both houses burns the same fire.
Turks and Hindus have one way, the guru’s made it clear.
Don’t say Ram, don’t say Khuda [Allah], so says Kabir.

— Kabir, Śabda 10, Translated by Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh

In Bijak – Kabir mocks the practice of praying to avatars such as Buddha of Buddhism, urged people to look within and consider all human beings as manifestation of God’s living forms:

If God be within the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?
If Ram be within the image which you find upon your pilgrimage,
then who is there to know what happens without?
Hari is in the East, Allah is in the West.
Look within your heart, for there you will find both Karim and Ram;
All the men and women of the world are His living forms.
Kabir is the child of Allah and of Ram: He is my Guru, He is my Pir.

— Kabir, III.2, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore

 Saints I see the world is mad.
If I tell the truth they rush to beat me,
if I lie they trust me.

— Kabir, Sabda 4

Keep the slanderer near you, build him a hut in your courtyard —
For, without soap or water, he will scrub your character clean.

— Kabir, Sākhī 23.4

Kabir conveyed his thoughts in poetry easy to understand form to masses targeting uplifting of them.

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