Looking for Kabir

Kabirdas was a 15th century Indian mystic poet and is revered as a saint by many, across regions, communities, castes, and, now, nations. A disciple of Ramananda (in Banaras), his writings fed the syncretic Bhakti movement, which in turn influenced the development of Nanak and his teachings, to the extent that Kabir’s immortal verses are included in Adi Granth. Kabir was critical of all organised, institutionalised, hierarchical faiths, and their rites and rituals, sanctioned by sanctimonious and exploitative clergy. For Kabir, the Truth was not in these trappings, nor in their egoistic traders.

chadariya jheeni re jhini (Kabir)

Read this wonderful explanation and translation: https://www.petervis.com/gallery/web/bollywood-translations/chadariya-jhini-re-jhini-english-translation.html

Kabir and The Kabir Panth by Rev. G.H. Westcott, Fellow of Allahabad University (Cawnpore, 1907) https://archive.org/details/KabirAndTheKabirPanth_466/mode/2up Page 1-5

It is generally allowed that of all the great Reformers, Kabir (1440-1518) and Tulsi Dass (1544-1624) have had the greatest influence for good among…Northern and Central India. Kabir has been described…as the Indian Luther (1483-1546)…

Among those who acknowledge their indebtedness to Kabir as a spiritual guide are Nanak Shah (1469-1538) of the Panjab, the founder of the Sikh community; Dadu of Ahmedabad (1544) founder of the Panth that bears his name, and Jag Jiwan Dass of Oudh (1760) the founder of the Sat Nami sect. Among religious teachers whose doctrine is said to be largely based upon the teaching of Kabir are Bribhan, founder of the Sadh community (1658), Baba Lal of Malwa and Shiva Narain of Ghazipur.

In modern days the number of those who have in one way or another come under the influence of Kabir is very great. In the Census Report of 1901, the number of Kabir Panthis alone is returned as 843,171 and the actual number is probably considerably larger, as in the United Provinces many Kabir Panthis seem to have been returned as Ramanandis and the figures for the Panjab are not included.

The hymns of Kabir are still sung by many a wandering minstrel, while his pithy sayings are frequently employed to win the attention of a dreamy audience or to clench a lengthy argument.

Unfortunately, the material for a life of Kabir is miserably scanty. It is admitted by all Kabir Panthis that Kabir was brought up as a child in the house of Niru, a weaver. In the Adi Granth occur these lines: By caste a weaver and patient of mind: utters Kabir with natural ease the excellences of Ram.

One Hundred Poems of Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore, assisted by Evelyn Underhill (Macmillan, 1915) https://archive.org/details/OneHundredPoems/mode/2up?q=kaaba Page XV

It does not need much experience of ascetic literature to recognise that boldness and originality of this attitude in such a time and place. From the point of view of orthodox sanctity, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, Kabir was plainly a heretic; and his frank dislike of all institutional religion, all external observance – which was a thorough and as intense as that of the Quaker themselves – completed, as far as ecclesiastical opinion was concerned, his reputation as a dangerous man. The God whom he proclaimed was “neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash.”

 Mo ko kahan dhunro bande
 O servant, where dost thou see Me?
 Lo! I am beside thee
 I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
 I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
 Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yooga and renunciation.
 If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.
 Kabir say, “O Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath.” 

 Santan jat na pucho nirguniyan
 It is needless to ask of a saint the caste to which he belongs;
 For the priest, the warrior, the tradesman, and all the thirty-six castes, alike are seeking for God.
 It is but folly to ask what the caste of a saint may be;
 The barber has sought God, the washerwoman, and the carpenter –
 Even Raidas was a seek after God.
 The Rishi Swapacha was a tanner by caste.
 Hindus and Moselms alike have achieved that End, where remains no mark of distinction.  

HAD ANHAD (Bounded Boundless): Journeys with Ram & Kabir (103 min, English Subtitles) A film by Shabnam Virmani – Kabir was a 15th century mystic poet of north India who defied the boundaries between Hindu and Muslim. He had a Muslim name and upbringing, but his poetry repeatedly invokes the widely revered Hindu name for God – Ram. Who is Kabir’s Ram? This film journeys through song and poem into the politics of religion, and finds myriad answers on both sides of the hostile border between India and Pakistan.

Further Reading see Purushottam Agrawal: Kashi ka Kabir and Akath Kahani Prem Ki: Kabir Ki Kavita Aur Unka Samay (An Ineffable Tale of Love: Kabir’s Poetry and his Times) (Rajkamal Prakshan, 2009).


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