Friday, March 24, 2023


Remembering Bhagat Kabir Ji A Revolutionary Saint Poet on His 624th Birth Anniversary (June 14, 2022)

June 13, 2022 10:42 PM
Bhagat Kabir Ji (painting)
Dr Amrit Kaur

Bhagat Kabir Ji's full name was Kabir Das. 'Kabir' in Arabic language means  'great` and the word 'dasa' in Sanskrit language meansa 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 2022 his birth anniversary will be celebrated on  June 14.

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 condenses, 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. 

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. 

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. 

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 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 : 

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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