Sant Kabir

Introduction

Sant Kabir is one of the greatest mystic poet saints of India and his name evokes reverence and love for the Lord among millions even today. He was considered the unifying factor across the three major religions of Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism in Ancient India. The name Kabir originates from the Arabic word ‘Al Kabir’ meaning ‘The Great’ which is the 37th name of God in Islam.

Circumstances of his birth

Legends surround his birth and death. Some say that he grew up in a Muslim weaver community while others say that he was actually the son of a Brahmin widow who was adopted by a childless couple. Still others say that he was of virgin birth. The most common and accepted version  was that he was said to have been born on the full moon day in the month of Jyeshta in the year 1398 AD. His birth anniversary known as Sant Kabir Das Jayanthi is celebrated with great enthusiasm by his followers every year on this day. He was said to have been found in Lehartara a small town in Varanasi by Niru and Nima a Muslim weaver couple who became his caretaker parents. Some legends say that only a few generations back Neeru’s ancestors had embraced Islam and were originally Hindus hence he had mixed customs and was not very orthodox in his religious outlook unlike Nima who was from an orthodox Muslim family and hence was a strict follower of the religion. Though they were extremely poor and uneducated they showered him with love and affection.

Naming Ceremony and Education

The parents organised the naming ceremony function and when the Kazi opened the Quran four names sprung up Kabir, Akbar, Kubra and Kibria all of them being synonyms for ‘great’ and were the names of God in Islam. The perplexed Kazi felt it to be unsuitable for a child in the petty weaver community and a second Kazi was summoned. But opening the Quran at random, names of God again appeared. Ultimately despite strong opposition from the Kazis the couple decided to name the child Kabir. Since he belonged to the low class weaver community both the Hindu and Muslim schools refused him admission. Later on it is said that as all great saints his spiritually exalted stature resulted in his erudition.

Kabir and His Guru

From a young age Kabir was always interested in spiritual gatherings whether it was Hindu or Muslim. He would often ask witty questions which would annoy the priests and the Mullahs as they were unable to answer them. Having a formal Guru being a tradition then Kabir began to roam everywhere in search of a true Guru. Hearing about Shri Ramanandji, Kabir set out to his ashram. But the inmates of the ashram refused him entry on the grounds that he was a low caste Muslim. But nothing could thwart Kabir and determinedly he set about learning the daily routine of the Guru. He noticed that the Guru used to visit the Ganges every morning and reaching earlier one day he lay down on the steps at the ghat of the Ganges. In the semi darkness, the Guru stepped over him chanting Ram Ram. Immediately Kabir realised that this was the great Mantra which he had been eagerly waiting to be initiated into and he returned home in great joy. He wore a Rudraksha around his neck and smearing his forehead with sandal paste declared himself a disciple of Swami Ramanand. When the news reached the great Guru he was amazed and summoning Kabir asked him as to how and when he had made him his disciple. Hearing Kabir’s simple and loving words the Guru’s eyes opened. He realised that Kabir was no ordinary boy but a great soul and hugging him with joy blessed him. Kabir soon realised that the Hindus and Muslims were dogmatic about their religion and traditions but did not try to purify their mind or cleanse their heart. He exhorted them to realise that though people were many the same blood flowed through all just as different colour cows gave the same white milk. Similarly, God was one and could be called by any Name. God was beyond the distinction of Ram and Allah and was present in each and every atom of the universe and could only be cognised in the crucible of one’s own experience.

Kabir and Sikandar Lodi

Sikandar Lodi was the Sultan in Delhi during Kabir’s lifetime. Kabir’s ideas were vehemently opposed by the Hindus and Muslims and they all unitedly raised a voice of protest and lodged a complaint with the Sultan. Sikandar Lodi was feared by all and he promised to come to Varanasi to investigate the problem himself. He arrived soon at Varanasi and held an open court at Dashashwamedh Ghat where all the protestors collected. He then summoned Kabir to his court. Thousands of Kabir’s followers accompanied him to the court. Kabir refused to bow down before the Sultan saying he bowed only before the Lord. The Sultan ordered him to be put into chains and drowned but Kabir came out unscathed. The Hindus and Muslims then said that he was a sorcerer who practised magic and the enraged Sultan ordered him to be thrown into a pyre but Kabir again came out unharmed. He was then tied up and ordered to be set on the path of an inebriated rogue elephant but he once again escaped without a scratch. Sikandar Lodhi now realised the greatness of Kabir and he fell at his feet asking for his pardon. He bestowed all wealth on Kabir who blessed him and returned home in gratitude to the Lord. On seeing the failure of their plans Kabir’s detractors made many further attempts to defame him but Kabir’s love for God and utter simplicity shone through and gradually people realised his greatness and accepted him. The offerings of wealth given by Sikandar Lodi to Kabir were used by him to feed the poor, downtrodden and holy men.

His family life

According to legends Kabir was a Grihasth saint who married and raised a family despite living an ascetic life. His wife was Loi and he had a son named Kamaal and a daughter named Kamaali.

Later Years

Sant Kabir travelled across India propagating the Bhakti movement to all irrespective of caste, creed or gender. His travels were marked by many miracles but Kabir was humble and attributed it all to the Lord. He said that love and intense devotion for the Lord were the only hallmarks of a true devotee and it was pure, unselfish and divine requiring only qualifications of sincerity, faith and an intense longing for the Lord. This would result in annihilation of desire and ego. Since the same Lord resided in all beings, he asked the people to love and help one another, hurting none and to create a compassionate and united society free of prejudices and dogmas. Many people became his devotees during his travels like Jaagu, Bhaagu and Suratigopal and they later migrated and formed many more Kabir Mathas to propagate the message of Kabir.

Kabir and Guru Nanak

During his travels Kabir met Guru Nanak who was said to be a young man at that time. Kabir’s compositions of 227 padas in 17 raags and 237 shlokas are found in the Guru Granth Sahib under the head of Bhagat Bani a generic name for the contributions of other saints other than the ten Sikh Gurus.

Kabir’s move to Magahar

Magahar was a small settlement in U.P which was on one side of the Aami River while Gorakhpur was on the other side. Once when Magahar was suffering from severe drought, the then ruler Nawab Bijli Khan requested Kabir to help him. When the people of Kashi were reluctant to allow Kabir to leave, Kabir explained that it was not the place that was spiritually important but the thoughts and spiritual stature of the people hence he exhorted them to entrench their minds firmly on the Lord. Kabir then left for Magahar leaving Varanasi(Kashi). He prayed sincerely on the banks of the Aami River which too was drying out to relieve the masses from suffering. It is said that the skies opened and the drought ended with the people being witness to Kabir’s miraculous powers.

His last days and passing away

Kabir passed away on Ekadashi day in the month of Magh in the year 1518 AD on the banks of the Aami River in Magahar in U.P. He was said to have been 120 years old at that time. Hearing the news of his passing away, all his followers who were both Hindus and Muslims gathered there in large numbers. The Hindus wished to cremate the body as per their tradition while the Muslims wished to follow theirs by burying the body. When a massive fight started suddenly there was a roar in the sky illuminated by a Divine light. Kabir’s Voice spoke stating that he was neither Hindu nor Muslim as his soul was eternal and indestructible which was the ultimate reality and not the body made up of five elements. Stunned the followers lifted the shroud to find only a handful of flowers. The flowers were divided and later placed in a Hindu shrine and a Muslim tomb in Magahar. The remaining flowers were placed in the shrine in Kabirchaura in Varanasi. Magahar is a famous tourist spot today encompassing the concepts of unity and religious tolerance. The Kabirchaura Magahar shrine is located near Magahar railway station. The river Aami is considered very sacred as Lord Rama is said to have spent some days on its banks with Sita and Lakshmana during his exile. Lord Buddha too is said to have renounced his princely robes, shaved his head and bathed in its sacred waters.

Kabir’s philosophy

Kabir’s philosophy was a synthesis of many religions with the underlying concept always being Supreme and deep abiding love for the Lord. He accepted the Hindu concepts of law of karma and reincarnation along with the Muslim affirmation of a single God and rejected the rigid caste system and the strict idol worship thus amalgamating the Bhakti and Sufi traditions. He always advocated the Nirguna or Impersonal aspect of God with faith and devotion to God being the main qualifications of a true seeker. Life according to him was an interplay of Jivatma(personal soul) and Paramatma(God) and the union of these two divine principles brought about salvation. In a simple and lucid manner he explained the concepts of existence, soul, conscience etc and openly criticised the loopholes in the various sects. His philosophy appealed to all as it was relevant to situations that surrounded the daily lives of the people. According to him understanding, realising and accepting oneself led to release from stress and created harmony with one’s surroundings. Life was very difficult those days for people from the lower castes due to the supremacy and dogmas of the rigid Brahmin caste and Kabir instilled in them a feeling of self confidence.

His Poetry and songs

Kabir expressed his thoughts and views in the form of two line couplets of poetry or verses known as Dohas including other forms of poetry like Padas and Ramainis. Since they were in the vernacular language of Hindi mixed with Braj, Avadhi and Bhojpuri and were unfettered by the grammar used in his day they were accessible to the common man and this quality made it useful to all and is used in the social and spiritual context even to this day. The miracle of his writings was that he was said to be never formally educated and was almost completely illiterate except for writing the word ‘Ram’.  His great work Beejak is a collection of a large number of his poems.

Some Sayings of Kabir

1.O Servant, where do you seek Me?

Listen, I am beside you,

I am not in temple nor mosque

I am neither in Kaaba nor Kailash

Neither am I in rites and ceremonies,

Nor in Yoga and renunciation.

If you are a true seeker

You shall see Me at once

You will find me in the secret place within.

Kabir says: tell me, where is God?

He is in the breath within the breath.

2.O Lord Incarnate, who will serve Thee?
Every votary offers his worship to the God of his own creation: each day he receives service
None seek Him, the Perfect: Brahma, the Indivisible Lord.
They believe in ten Avatars; but no Avatar can be the Infinite Spirit, for he suffers the results of his deeds:
The Supreme One must be other than this.
The Yogi, the Sanyasi, the Ascetics, are disputing one with another:
Kabîr says, “O brother! he who has seen that radiance of love, he is saved.”

3.How could the love between Thee and me sever?
As the leaf of the lotus abides on the water: so thou art my Lord, and I am Thy servant.
As the night-bird Chakor gazes all night at the moon: so Thou art my Lord and I am Thy servant.
From the beginning until the ending of time, there is love between Thee and me; and how shall such love be extinguished?
Kabîr says: “As the river enters into the ocean, so my heart touches Thee.”

The Kabir Panth

The legacy of Kabir is carried forward together by a religious community called The Kabir Panth(Path of Kabir) and its devotees numbering around 90 million known as Kabir Panthis. The Mulgadi is the main governing body which commands over 8000 Ashrams all over the world with lakhs of dedicated Sadhus involved with these Ashrams. They are spread all over the world and mainly in North and Central India. They are involved in the education and training of the Sadhus and in a number of charitable activities like serving the poor, running schools, publication house, running a research cell including engaging international scholars from US, Mexico, Russia etc who wish to research different aspects of the Kabir Panth, Bhakti movement  and writings of other saints in this lineage. Cultural events like music festivals and other events are conducted where the songs of Kabir are sung and Kabir Jayanti is grandly celebrated.

The Kabir Math

Siddhapeeth Kabirchaura Math Mulgadi is the home, place of meditation and the historical work place of Kabir as well of all the other saints of his tradition. Mul means original and Gadi means seat indicating it to be the original seat of Sant Kabir. It is located at Kabir Chaura, Lehartala Varanasi in the back alleys. It is so named as Kabirdasji is said to have preached on this site where the Math is now located sitting on a platform or Chaura. It was said to have been established by Acharya Surati Gopal who was Kabirdasji’s first follower in 1578 AD. The house of his parents Neeruteela has now become the accommodation for all those scholars and students who wish to study Kabir’s work. All the items used by him in his lifetime including the Charana Paduka, weaving machine, the rudraksh mala which was given to him by his Guru Ramanand, the wooden container used for storing drinking water, trident etc can be seen at the Math. The Lehartala pond and its vicinity is considered to be very sacred as it was closely linked with Kabir’s life. The Beejak manuscript containing all Kabir’s works is stored in the Math’s library. A large portion of Lehartala is under the U.P govt and the archaeological department. A huge Kabir Sabha has been constructed by the U.P Govt with provisions for rooms for saints to stay. A publishing house is operated by the Math which publishes numerous books of Kabir like Kabir Beejak, Sathya Kabir Ki Sakhi, Kabir Granthaavali, parts of the Guru Granth Sahib and others giving a deep insight into Kabir’s principles, tenets and writings.

Kabir’s Samadhi Mandir

Kabir’s mortal remains (which were actually only some flowers that were left of his body) are preserved in a Samadhi shrine in Kabirchaura which was constructed on the orders of the then ruler of Kashi Raja Veerdev Singh Ju Baghel.  It was said to be the place where Kabir used to regularly meditate. Later renovations were carried out in the early 19th century. A grand temple has been erected there with the Chauki(the part of the temple just outside the main entrance) done in black and white marble and the temple’s clock tower made of beautifully carved stone. The temple’s minaret and dome depict rare workmanship and design combining both temple and mosque architecture. The courtyard in the Samadhi Mandir is used nowadays to hold special ceremonies.

How To Reach the Math

The Math is at Lehartala around 18 kms from Varanasi Airport and about 3 kms from Varanasi Railway Junction. One can reach it by road, rail or air.

Conclusion

Kabirdas preached a simple but highly accessible way of higher life for all mankind free from caste, creed and dogmas. His legacy was made known to the world by great personalities among them being Rabindranath Tagore who published ‘The hundred poems of Kabir’ which introduced him to the Western World and Kshiti Mohan Sen a great academician who was the grandfather of Amartya Sen the Nobel Laureate. Mahatma Gandhi too is said to have preached the principles of Kabir to bring about a change in the rigid mind set of the people against caste system using the Charkha or spinning wheel as his mascot. Saints like Kabir are a beacon of light to mankind floundering in the unending cycles of birth and death and will always be remembered and revered for generations to come.