Remembering Bhagat Kabir Ji A Revolutionary Saint Poet on His 626 th Birth Anniversary (June 22, 2024)

Dr Amrit Kaur | June 19, 2024 06:29 PM

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 compositions Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji included in Adi Granth Sahib. While compiling Adi Granth Sahib Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji included the compositions of 15 Bhagtas, 11 Bhatts and 4 other holy men. Out of the 15 Bhagtas Bhagt Bhagat Kabir Ji's contribution is the largest, 227 Padas in 17 Ragas and 237 Slokas. 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.

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's birth. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha in his Encyclopaedia of Sikh Literature (1930) more popularly known as Mahan Kosh also gives his date of birth as Jeth Sudi 15 Samvat 1455 i.e. 1398 and the date of his leaving for the heavenly abode as Samvat 1575 i.e. 1518. Jeth is the third month of desi calendar and sudi 15 means full moon day. But some scholars give his date of birth as 1398 but the date of his leaving for the heavenly abode as 1448. This year i.e. in 2024 his birth anniversary will be celebrated on June 22.

If one relies on the facts given by recent scholars the period of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469-1539) and Bhagat Kabir Ji (1398-1448) do not show them as contemporaries. Thus, there cannot be any consensus, 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 are included in the Goindval pothis which in addition to the hymns of Guru Sahibs include the hymns of 15 Bhagtas, 11 Bhatts and 4 other holy men. These pothis were prepared during the time of Sri Guru Amar Das Ji (1479-1574), Guruship years (1552-1574) the third Guru of the Sikhs. The 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, 11 Bhatts and 4 other holy men and as mentioned above in this Holy Scripture out of the 15 Saints, the contribution of Bhagat Kabir Ji is the largest.

As per a legend Kabir Sahib 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 a Brahmin.

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

Ochhi mat meri jat julaha. (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.

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 inclined 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 useless 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 Brahmins 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 :

Sunat kie turak je hoiga aurat ka kia kariai. Aradh sariri nar na chhodai ta te hindu hi rahiai. ||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, so it is better to remain 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 against 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.

Bhujā bāʼndh bhilā kar dārio. Hastī karop mūnd mėh mārio. Hasat bhāg kai chīsā mārai. Iā mūrat kai hao balihārai. ||1|| Āhi mere thākur tumrā jor. Kājī bakibo hastī tor. ||1|| Rahāo|| Re mahāvat tujh dārao kāt. Isėh turāvahu ghālhu sāt. Hasat na torai dharai dhiān. vā kai ridai basai bhagvān. ||2|| Kiā aprādh sant hai kīnĥā. Bāʼndh pot kunchar kao dīnĥā. Kunchar pot lai lai namaskārai. Būjhī nahī kājī andhiārai. ||3|| Ŧīn bār patīā bhar līnā. Man kathor ajhū na patīnā. Kahi Kabīr hamrā gobind. Chauthe pad mėh jan kī jind. ||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 in 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 gambhīr. 

                                              Janjīr bāʼndh kar khare Kabīr. ||1|| Man na digai tan kāhe kao darāe. Charan kamal chit rahio samāe. Rahāo. Gangā kī lahar merī tutī janjīr. Marigchhālā par baithe Kabīr. ||2|| Kahi kambīr koū sang na sāth. Jal thal rākhan hai raghunāth. ||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 ji 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 propagated ahimsa (non-violence). He believed in equality and fraternity of all mankind. According to him: Aval alah nūr upāiā kudrat ke sabh bande. Ėk nūr te sabh jag upjiā kaun bhale ko mande ||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 : Garabh vās mėh kul nahī jātī. Barahm bind te sabh utpātī. ||1|| Kaho re pandit bāman kab ke hoe. Bāman kahi kahi janam mat khoe. ||1|| Rahāo|| Jou tūʼn barāhman barahmanī jāiā Ŧao ān bāt kāhe nahī āiā. ||2|| Ŧum kat barāhman ham kat sūd. Ham kat lohū tum kat dūdh. ||3|| Kaho Kabīr jo barahm bīchārai. So barāhman kahīat 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 out of the womb of your mother 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, we call him a Brahmin. Bhagat Kabir Ji tried to dispell humanity's fear of death. The following hymns reveal this fact. Kabīr Jis marne te jag darai mere man ānand. Marne hī te pāīai pūran parmānand. ||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 martā martā jag muā mar bhė 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 sabhai kahėh soī kautakhār. ||190|| Kabīr rāmai rām kaho kahibe māhi bibek. (SGGS, P. 1374) Besides his hymns included in 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 Kabir Bijak. Some believe that Dharam Das Ji compiled Kabir Bijak 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 bīchārī. Ochhi bhagat kaise utras 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.

Kahat Kabīr chhod bikhiā ras it sangat nihchao marnā

(SGGS, P. 92)

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

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

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