Remembering Bhagat Kabir Ji A Revolutionary Saint Poet on His 617th Birth Anniversary

Dr Amrit Kaur | June 02, 2015 02:33 AM
Artist portrait of Bhagat Kabir ji
Dr Amrit Kaur

This year Jeth sudi 15 falls on June 2 and thus his birth anniversary is being celebrated on June 2

Bhagat Kabir Ji's full name was Kabir Das. 'Kabir' in Arabic language means 'great and the word 'dasa' in Sanskrit language means a slave or a servant. He is one of the medieval Indian Saints of Bhakti and Sufi movements whose compsitions Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji included in Adi Granth Sahib. While compiling Adi Granth Sahib Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji incuded the composiions of 15 saintly persons and out of these Bhagat Kabir Ji's contribution being 541 hymns is the largest. He was born is 1398. Kabirpanthis i.e. followers of Bhagat Kabir Ji believe that he was born in 1398 and they give date of his demise as 1518 which means that he lived upto the age of 120 years. But some scholars give his date of birth as 1398 but the date of his leaving for the heavenly abode as 1448. If one accepts the claim of Kabirpanthis Bhagat Kabir Ji was a contemporary of

Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The historians in general do not mention the exact date of Bhagat Kabir Ji birth. But Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha in his Encyclopaedia of Sikh Literature more popularly known as Mahan Kosh gives his date of birth as Jeth Sudi 15 Samvat 1455 (year 1398) and the date of his leaving for the heavenly abode as Samvat 1575 (1518). Jeth is the third month of desi calender and sudi 15 means full moon day. This year Jeth sudi 15 falls on June 2 and thus his birth anniversary is being celebrated on June 2.

         If one relies on the facts given by recent scholars the period of Sri vGuru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) and Bhagat Kabir Ji (1398-1448) do not show them as contemporaries. Thus, there cannot be any consenses, as to whether or not Bhagat Kabir Ji ever met Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. But one historian has claimed that Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Bhagat Kabir Ji met in 1506 in village Pusa. The compositions of Bhagat Kabir Ji included in the Goindval pothis which include the hymns of Guru Sahib's alongwith those of some of the Bhaktas prepared during the time of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji (1479-1574, Guruship years 1552-1574) the Third Guru of the Sikhs. The 541 compositions of Bhagat Kabir Ji are included in these pothis and the same have been included in Adi Granth Sahib compiled by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, who besides the hymns of the first four Gurus and his own hymns included the hymns of 15 saints and mystics, both Hindu and Muslim and as mentioned above in this Holy Scripture out of these saints, the contribution of Bhagat Kabir Ji is the largest.

         As per a legend he was son of a Brahmin widow who abandoned him near Banaras close to Lehar Talao (tank) in a forest. Abandoned by his mother he was found by a Muslim weaver couple named Ali Niru and Neema who brought him up as their son. This couple taught him the weaver's skills. Some scholars are inclined to think that he was not a Brahmin child but because Brahmins think that only their caste people can be scholars they concocted the story that he was Brahmin.

         Bhagat Kabir Ji in one his compositions claims that he was following the occupation of Julahas (weavers).

                                    Ocẖẖī maṯ merī jāṯ julāhā.

                                                      (SGGS*, P. 524)

         Which means that my intellect is lowly. I am a weaver by birth.

         There is lack of consensus as to whether or not he got married but as per tradition it is believed that he was married to Loi daughter of a weaver named Neti and had two children one son Kamaal and one daughter Kamaali.

         Bhagat Kabir Ji's compositions reflect a synthesis of (i) Bhakti (Vaisnava tradition) (ii) Sufism (Islamic mysticism) and (iii) his own mystical nature. His followers call themselves Kabirpanthis i.e. the followers of Kabirs' religion. Weavers also call themselves Kabirpanthis. Bhagat Kabir Ji expressed the belief in One Supreme Being and propagated the view that God may reveal Himself within a person's soul but that happens with the grace of God.

         As per Muslim tradition he was named Kabir and was given Islamic preaching. But by nature he was more inclimed towards Hindu religion. In his childhood he had developed an urge for attaining spiritual heights.

         He became a disciple of Swami Ramanand Ji and adopted Vaisnava creed. Some scholars believe that Swami Ramanand Ji was his Guru, but Bhagat Kabir Ji in his compositions has used the word 'Guru' for the 'True Guru'. At that time Kashi was the centre of learning and was full of scholars of various creeds which enabled him to learn and discuss about various creeds.

         In his compositions he refers to Kashi which is now called Banaras. It seems that he lived around this area. At the time of Bhagat Kabir Ji Brahmins in Kashi were very staunch in idol worship, performed many empty rituals and were exploiting the ignorant and naive masses.

         He did not believe in idol worship, caste prejudice and criticised the Hindu rituals. He not only vehemently condemned the worship of idols but also satired at the rituals of mundan, purificatory bathing, ritual feasts and pilgrimages. In one of his hymns he ridiculed the Hindu ritual of mundan i.e. shaving off a child's hair based on the belief that this ritual would lead to realisation of God. Bhagat Kabir Ji says that if it were so the sheep would have been redeemed several times in one life since their hair are shaven off many times.

         In view of his satires the Bramins developed a hatred towards him. Simultaneously, the Muslims also started hating him because he vehemently criticised some Muslim rituals. In one of his hymns he says :

Sunaṯ kīe ṯurak je hoigā auraṯ kā ki▫ā karīai.

Araḏẖ sarīrī nār na cẖẖodai ṯā ṯe hinḏū hī rahīai. ||3||

                                                                                 (SGGS, P. 477)

         Which means that if circumcision makes one a Muslim, then what about a woman? She is the other half of a man's body, and she does not leave him, so it is better to remains a Hindu than become a Muslim.

         Because of his dauntless and straight-forward attacks on both Hindus and Muslims, the priests of both religions became antagonistic towards him. Under these circumstances in 1489 when Sikandar Lodhi son of emperor Behlol Khan Lodhi a pathan acceded to the Delhi throne after his father and visited Banaras in 1490 both Hindu and Muslim priests antagonised him towards Bhagat Kabir Ji. Sikander Lodhi was already against Hindus and is known for inflicting tortures upon Hindus. Sikandar Lodhi took this opportunity to inflict tortures upon Bhagat Kabir Ji and made him undergo many types of tortures. Bhagat Kabir Ji has himself mentioned about these tortures in his hymns. The two hymns given below reveal this fact. In one instance with his arms tied he was thrown in front of an elephant with the belief that the elephant would kill him.

Bẖujā bāʼnḏẖ bẖilā kar ḏārio.

Hasṯī karop mūnd mėh mārio.
Hasaṯ bẖāg kai cẖīsā mārai.

Iā mūraṯ kai hao balihārai. ||1||

Āhi mere ṯẖākur ṯumrā jor.

Kājī bakibo hasṯī ṯor. ||1|| Rahāo||

Re mahāvaṯ ṯujẖ dārao kāt.

Isėh ṯurāvahu gẖālhu sāt.

Hasaṯ na ṯorai ḏẖarai ḏẖiān.

vā kai riḏai basai bẖagvān. ||2||

Kiā aprāḏẖ sanṯ hai kīnĥā.

Bāʼnḏẖ pot kuncẖar kao ḏīnĥā.

Kuncẖar pot lai lai namaskārai.

Būjẖī nahī kājī anḏẖiārai. ||3||

Ŧīn bār paṯīā bẖar līnā.

Man kaṯẖor ajhū na paṯīnā.

Kahi Kabīr hamrā gobinḏ.

Cẖauthe paḏ mėh jan kī jinḏ. ||4||1||4||

                                                      (SGGS, P. 870)

         Bhagat Kabir Ji says that they tied my arms, bundled me up, and threw me before an elephant. The mahout (elephant driver) struck the elephant on the head, and infuriated him. But the elephant ran away, trumpeting, I am a sacrifice to this image of the Lord. "O my Lord and Master, You are my strength". The Qazi shouted at the mahout to drive the elephant on. He yelled out, "O mahout! I shall cut you into pieces. Hit him, and drive him on! But the elephant did not move; instead, he began to meditate. The Lord God abides within his mind. What sin has this Saint committed, that you have made him into a bundle and thrown him before me? Lifting up the bundle, the elephant bowed down before it. The Qazi could not understand it; he was blind. Three times, he tried to do it. Even then, his hardened mind was not satisfied. Bhagat Kabir Ji says such is my Lord and Master. The soul of His humble servant dwells in the fourth state.

         In another instance, heavy stones were tied with his body and he was thrown is the river Ganges to be drowned. But to the astonistment of all he came on the surface of water sitting on a mrigshala (deerhide).

Gang gusāin gahir gambẖīr.

Janjīr bāʼnḏẖ kar kẖare Kabīr. ||1||

Man na digai ṯan kāhe kao darāe.

Cẖaran kamal cẖiṯ rahio samāe. Rahāo.

Gangā kī lahar merī tutī janjīr.

Marigcẖẖālā par baiṯẖe Kabīr. ||2||

Kahi kambīr koū sang na sāth.

Jal thal rākẖan hai ragẖunāth. ||3||10||18||

                                                               (SGGS, P. 1162)

          He says that the mother Ganges is deep and profound. Tied up in chains, they took me there. My mind was not shaken; why should my body be afraid? My consciousness remained immersed in the Lotus Feet of the Lord. The waves of the Ganges broke the chains, and Kabir came afloat seated on a deerhide. Bhagat Kabir Ji says that I have no friend or companion. On the water, and on the land, the Lord is my Protector.

         In the end Sikandar Lodhi because of Bhagat Kabir Ji's scholarly bent of mind and old age became pitiful and let him go free.

         Bhagat Kabir Ji propagate ahimsa (non-violence). He believed in equality and fraternity of all mankind. According to him:

Aval alah nūr upāiā kuḏraṯ ke sabẖ banḏe.

Ėk nūr ṯe sabẖ jag upjiā kaun bẖale ko manḏe ||1||

                                                                        (SGGS, P. 1349)

         First, Allah created the Light; then, by His Creative Power, He made all mortal beings. From the One Light, the entire universe welled up. So who is good and who is bad?

         He strongly condemned caste prejudices. He states :

Garabẖ vās mėh kul nahī jāṯī.

Barahm binḏ ṯe sabẖ uṯpāṯī. ||1||

Kaho re pandiṯ bāman kab ke hoe.

Bāman kahi kahi janam maṯ kẖoe. ||1||Rahāo||

Jou ṯūʼn barāhmaṇ barahmaṇī jāiā

Ŧao ān bāt kāhe nahī āiā. ||2||

Ŧum kaṯ barāhmaṇ ham kaṯ sūḏ.

Ham kaṯ lohū ṯum kaṯ ḏūḏẖ. ||3||

Kaho Kabīr jo barahm bīcẖārai.

So barāhmaṇ kahīaṯ hai hamārai. 

                                             (SGGS, P. 324)

         In this hymn he clarifies that in the dwelling of the womb, there is no ancestry or social status. All have originated from the Seed of God. Tell me, O Pandit, O religious scholar: since when have you been a Brahmin? If you are indeed a Brahmin, born of a Brahmin mother, then why didn't you come by some other way? How is it that you are a Brahmin, and I am of a low social status? Is it that I am formed of blood, and you are made of milk? Bhagat Kabir Ji says that among us one who contemplates God, is said to be a Brahmin.

         Bhagat Kabir Ji tried to dispell humanity's fear of death. The following hymns reveal this fact.

Kabīr jis marne ṯe jag darai mere man ānanḏ.

Marne hī ṯe pāīai pūran parmānanḏ. ||22||

                                                           (SGGS, P. 1365)

         He proclaims that the world is afraid of death but that death fills my mind with bliss. It is only by death that perfect, supreme bliss is obtained. 

                  Kabīrā marṯā marṯā jag muā mar bẖė na jānai koe.

                  Aisī marnī jo marai bahur na marnā hoe. ||1||

                                                               (SGGS, P. 555)

         Bhagat Kabir Ji also proclaims that the world is dying - dying to death, but no one knows how to truly die. Whoever dies, let him die such a death that he does not have to die again.

         There are several anecdotes which reveal his piety. One anecdote is that once he was on his way to sell cloth he had woven himself. But on the way he met some sadhus and he gave away the entire cloth to them free of cost.

         In two of his hymns Bhagat Kabir Ji clarifies that while uttering 'Ram, Ram' one must understand the distinction between 'Rama' i.e. Sri Ram Chander Ji, the King of Ayodhya a singular person and 'Ram' (God Almighty) the Lord.

                  Soī rām sabẖai kahėh soī kauṯakhār. ||190||

                  Kabīr rāmai rām kaho kahibe māhi bibek.

                                                      (SGGS, P. 1374)

         Besides his hymns included Sri Guru Granth Sahib the main theme of which is devotion to God Almighty, two other collections of his hymns exist (i) Kabir Granthavali and (ii) Kabir Bijak shortly termed as Bijak. It is said that Dharam Das Ji, Surat Gopal Ji and other followers of Bhagat Kabir Ji compiled his compositions in Kabirbijak. Some believe that Dharam Dass ji compiled Kabirbijak at Rewa in Samvat 1521 i.e. in 1464.

         At that time a belief prevailed among the Hindus that if a person dies in Kashi he goes to heaven and a person who dies in Maghar (pronounced as Mag-har) is reborn as an ass To disprove this theory Bhagat Kabir Ji moved to Maghar in Samvat 1575 i.e. 1518 and left for his heavenly abode from Maghar the same year. He says

Kāsī maghar sam bīcẖārī.

Ocẖẖī bẖagaṯ kaise uṯras pārī. ||4||

                                    (SGGS, P. 326)

         This means that I consider Kashi and Maghar the same. With inadequate devotion, how can anyone swim across?

         In his sacred memory at the place where Bhagat Kabir Ji was abandoned near Lehar Talab and found by Ali Niru and Neema a temple has been established. In Kashi his seat of preaching is known as Kabir Chaura. In 1550 his followers built his smadh in Maghar, the place where he left for his heavenly abode.

                  Kahaṯ Kabīr cẖẖod bikẖiā ras iṯ sangaṯ nihcẖao marṇā

                                                                                 (SGGS, P. 92)

         Bhagat Kabir Ji says give up the pleasures of corruption, or else you will surely die of them.

*Dr. Amrit Kaur, Retd. Professor, Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab



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