Kabir (1398–1518 CE) was a well-known Indian mystic poet and saint. His writings influenced Hinduism's Bhakti movement, and his verses are found in Sikhism's scripture Guru Granth Sahib, the Satguru Granth Sahib of Saint Garib Das, and Kabir Sagar of Dharamdas. Today, his poems are not only sung by Hindus and Sikhs, but also by Muslims, especially Sufis.
Born in the city of Varanasi in what is now Uttar Pradesh, he is known for being critical of both organized religion and religions. He questioned what he regarded to be the meaningless and unethical practices of all religions, primarily what he considered to be the wrong practices in the Hindu and Muslim religions. During his lifetime, he was threatened by both Hindus and Muslims for his views. When he died, several Hindus and the Muslims he had inspired claimed him as theirs.
While there is evidence that both Hindus and Muslims were ready to assault Kabir physically during his lifetime, they have since his death been ready to assault each other over the privilege of claiming him as their own. A famous legend about Kabir shows his Hindu and Muslim followers massed for combat after his death, each side demanding to take charge of the body. But before the first blow is struck, someone removes the shroud to discover that a heap of flowers has replaced the cadaver. The two religious groups divide the flowers, and each goes off to bury or burn its half according to prescribed rituals.
Kabir suggested that "truth" is with the person who is on the path of righteousness, considered everything, living and non-living, as divine, and who is passively detached from the affairs of the world. To know the truth, suggested Kabir, drop the "I", or the ego. Kabir's legacy survives and continues through the Kabir panth ("Path of Kabir"), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat branches. Its members are known as Kabir panthis.
Early life and background
Kabir is believed to have been born in 1398, 14–15 on the full moon day of Jyeshtha month (according to the historical Hindu calendar Vikram Samvat) at the time of Brahmamuharta. Many followers of Kabir believe that he came from Sat Lok by assuming the body of light, and incarnated on a lotus flower and claim that the rishi Ashtanand was the direct witness of this incident, who himself appeared on a lotus flower in the Lahartara Pond.
A few accounts mention that Kabir in the form of a child was found at Lahartara Lake by a Muslim weaver called Niru and his wife Nima who raised him as his parents.
Kabir's family is believed to have lived in the locality of Kabir Chaura in Varanasi (Banaras).
Literary works with compositions attributed to Kabir include Kabir Bijak, Kabir Parachai, Sakhi Granth, Adi Granth (Sikh), and Kabir Granthawali (Rajasthan). There are 82 works attributed to Kabir as mentioned in Kabir and the Kabir panth by Westcott.
Kabir's poems were verbally composed in the 15th century and transmitted viva voce through the 17th century.
Where spring, the lord of seasons reigneth, there the unstruck music sounds of itself,
There the streams of light flow in all directions, few are the men who can cross to that shore!
There, where millions of Krishnas stand with hands folded,
Where millions of Vishnus bow their heads, where millions of Brahmas are reading the Vedas,
Where millions of Shivas are lost in contemplation, where millions of Indras dwell in the sky,
Where the demi-gods and the munis are unnumbered, where millions of Saraswatis, goddess of music play the vina,
There is my Lord self-revealed, and the scent of sandal and flowers dwells in those deeps.
— Kabir, II.57, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore
Charlotte Vaudeville states that the philosophy of Kabir and other sants of the Bhakti movement is the seeking of the Absolute. The notion of this Absolute is nirguna which, writes Vaudeville, is the 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, and urges man to recognize within himself his true divine nature".
Of all the terms he used to refer to the enlightenment experience or the means of reaching it, the most prominent is śabda, the Word. He stresses direct contact with the teacher, indicating that the only authentic teaching is the word from the guru’s mouth. And he continually urges immediate understanding, a recognition which (like the apprehension of a vibrating word) is sahaja, spontaneous, simple.
If Kabir insisted on anything, it was on the penetration of everything inessential, every layer of dishonesty and delusion. The individual must find the truth in his own body and mind, so simple, so direct, that the line between “him” and “it” disappears. One of the formulaic phrases in Kabir’s verses is ghaṭa ghaṭa mẽ, in everybody, in every vessel. The truth is close—closer than close.
Kabir literature legacy was promoted by two of his disciples, Bhāgodās and Dharamdas. Songs of Kabir were collected by Kshitimohan Sen from mendicants across India, these were then translated to English by Rabindranath Tagore.
Kabir's legacy continues to be carried forward by the Kabir panth ("Path of Kabir"), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat branches. This community was founded centuries after Kabir died, in various parts of India, over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are estimated to be around 9.6 million.
There are two temples dedicated to Kabir located in Benares. One of them is maintained by Hindus, while the other is by Muslims. Both the temples practice similar forms of worship where his songs are sung daily. Other rituals of aarti and distributing prasad are similar to other Hindu temples. The followers of Kabir are vegetarians and abstain from alcohol.
Kabir, Guru Nanak and the Guru Granth Sahib
Kabir's verses were incorporated into Adi Granth, the scripture of Sikhism, with verses attributed to Kabir constituting the largest non-Sikh contribution.
Some scholars state Kabir's ideas were one of the many influences on Guru Nanak, who went on to found Sikhism in the fifteenth century.
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