Kabir, the poet
Kabir, the poet

Kabir, (Arabic: “Great”) (born 1440, Varanasi, Jaunpur, India—died 1518, Maghar), iconoclastic Indian poet-saint revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The birth of Kabir remains shrouded in mystery and legend. That his early life began as a Muslim there is little doubt, but he was later strongly influenced by a Hindu ascetic, Ramananda.

Although Kabir is often depicted in modern times as a harmonizer of Hindu and Muslim belief and practice, it would be more accurate to say that he was equally critical of both, often conceiving them as parallel to one another in their misguided ways. In his view, the mindless, repetitious, prideful habit of declaiming scripture could be visited alike on the sacred Hindu texts, the Vedas, or the Islamic holy book, the Quran; the religious authorities doing so could be Brahmans or qadis (judges); meaningless rites of initiation could focus either on the sacred thread or on circumcision. What really counted, for Kabir, was utter fidelity to the one deathless truth of life, which he associated equally with the designations Allah and Ram—the latter understood as a general Hindu name for the divine, not the hero of the Ramayana. Kabir’s principal media of communication were songs called padas and rhymed couplets (dohas) sometimes called “words” (shabdas) or “witnesses” (sakhis). 

Kabir’s poetic personality has been variously defined by the religious traditions that revere him, and the same can be said for his hagiography. Muslims place him in Sufi (mystical) lineages, and for Hindus he becomes a Vaishnavite (devotee of the god Vishnu) with universalist leanings. But when one goes back to the poetry that can most reliably be attributed to Kabir, only two aspects of his life emerge as truly certain: he lived most of his life in Banaras (now Varanasi), and he was a weaver (julaha), one of a low-ranked caste that had become largely Muslim in Kabir’s time. His humble social station and his own combative reaction to any who would regard it as such have contributed to his celebrity among various other religious movements and helped shape the Kabir Panth, a sect found across northern and central India that draws its members especially, but not exclusively, from the Dalits (formerly known as untouchables). 

(Courtesy: Britannica; More details at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kabir-Indian-mystic-and-poet)
 


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