The works of Kabirdas
Kabirdas or Sant Kabir is one of the great philosopher saints of India. Surprisingly, for a figure with an almost iconic status and whose couplets are brought into use very frequently especially in north India, there is very little information by way of facts available on this man.
It is accepted that Kabir lived during the 14th century AD (c 1398/1440-1518AD) and he is said to have lived up to the age of 120. His arrival is often said to mark the renaissance of the Bhakti Movement in India. There is no information as to who Kabir?s parents were and as to which religion they belonged. He is believed to have been orphaned early in life and was brought up by a Muslim family belonging to the weaving profession. Coming of age Kabir took to weaving and some of his couplets refer to this.
It is also not clear as to where Kabir lived and practised his profession. From his works it appears that he originally lived somewhere in the present day Eastern Uttar Pradesh for his language reflects the use of Bhojpuri. He also lived in Benares (Kashi/Varanasi) for many years. The presence of Awadhi and Punjabi words in his verses only add to the mystery. Kabir is said to have married twice and his second wife, Loi, is supposed to have shared his spiritual interests.
Kabir was greatly influenced by the teachings of Ramanand a great Guru of Benares. He approached the latter for initiation only to be firmly rebuffed owing to his inferior caste. Not put off by this Kabir dogged the Guru?s footsteps for long till one day he discovered that Ramanand had his bath in the Ganges long before sunrise. Kabir lay down on the ghat leading to the river and in the dark the Guru stepped on him. The Guru uttered the words ?Ram Ram? in remorse and Kabir immediately took that as his initiation. Ramanand was moved by such steadfastness and accepted Kabir as his disciple. However ?Ram? was the only initiation Kabir needed and it is said that this was the only word he learnt to write.
Kabir began composing verses expounding his philosophy almost immediately after his initiation. Holding sadhus who did no work in contempt, Kabir upheld the dignity of labour and continued as a weaver all his life. He composed as he worked on the loom. He eschewed idol worship and upheld the oneness of all religions. To him Ram and Rahim were the same. The role of the Guru in leading one to Godhead was according to Kabir all important and in a famous couplet he states that if the Guru and God appeared before him simultaneously he would unhesitatingly pay his respects first to the Guru for it was only through the Guru that he understood God. There are several verses thus extolling the Guru.
Kabir?s works are many and most are in the form of doha (couplet) or chowtai (four liners). His works are classified as Sakhi (verses), Sabad (sayings) and Ramaini (spiritual guidelines). In addition the Beejak (seedling) is a compilation of his verses.
Kabir was persecuted for most of his life by the orthodox who could not stand his growing following. The fact that a lowly weaver was catching the fancy of the laity was anathema to the mullahs and pandits of Benares. He was forced to leave the city towards the end of his life and moved to the nearby town of Maghar. On his death a dispute arose among his Hindu and Muslim disciples as to the last rites. It is said that his corporeal form vanished and was replaced by a bunch of flowers. The Muslims took one half and buried it and the other half was cremated and a Samadhi came up over the spot of cremation. Even today the tomb and Samadhi co exist at Maghar.
The fifth Sikh Guru, Arjun Dev incorporated several of Kabir?s couplets into the Guru Granth Sahib and thus Kabir came to be greatly venerated by the Sikhs as well. He is thus uniquely worshipped by three major religions in India.
In modern times, Kabir?s sayings are completely relevant. Their simplicity makes them immortal. One hundred of Kabir?s verses were translated into English by Rabindranath Tagore. The Government of India released a postage stamp honouring Kabir. Even today, a community called the Kabirpanthis for whom the Sahaj Path (simple path) expounded by Kabir is the only religion, thrives in north India.
Truly, Kabir is one the greatest Mahatmas of our country.