History of Sant Kabir

Sant Kabir is one of the most prominent saints of India. He was a contemporary of Sant Raidas and a pillar of bhakti movement of the medieval India. He is the one, who vociferously opposed blind following of customs and rituals and reprimanded both the Hindus and Muslims for doing so. He pronounced the omnipresence of the Lord stating Him to be residing in the heart of all creatures. He saw the entire universe being pervaded by Ram. It was the period of the rule by Sikandar Lodi and there was unrest all around. In these circumstances he gave the message that only by remembering the Lord, one could think of well-being. He re-strengthened the faith of people in God. There are many myths related to the birth of Kabir. Some say that he was an incarnation of Bhakt Prahlad and was born by the union of a great sage and a Devangana (a divine damsel) named Pratichi, who protected him till he was picked up by Neeru and Neema. He was, however, born in Kashi. During those days Swami Ramanand was widely recognized, not in Kashi alone but in the whole of India. He was a great saint. It is said that once in Kashi he unknowingly blessed a widowed daughter of one of his Brahman disciples to be blessed with a son. The blessings of Swami Ramanand fructified and in 1455 Vikram Samvat she gave birth to a male-child. Afraid of the society that a widowed woman had given birth to a child and out of shame, she threw away the child in the Lahartara pond of Kashi. The pond was covered with lotus plants and the new bornchild started playing with lotus flowers. The sky was clouded and it was thundering and lightening. Neeru and Neema were passing through the pond and as Neema felt thirsty, she got down into the pond to quench her thirst. On seeing the new born child, her heart got filled with love and affection for the child. She picked up the child and brought him with her.

Kabir was a promising child and of helping nature. As a result people started loving him. Neeru was a weaver, who used to weave clothes in the traditional method using Tana and Bana (warp and woof). Kabir used to assist him and also used to assist his mother in the household chores. He also liked to serve saints and Mahatmas. Kabir at times used to go to the nearby market for selling clothes. Once a Sadhu asked him for some cloth and Kabir gave him the whole of the bundle without taking any money. On return his father rebuked him but Kabir started reciting the name of the Lord. Right from an early age Kabir used to ask people around to spend their time in Bhajan. As a result people started calling him ‘Nigura’ (worthless) and started avoiding him. Kabir used to think that without a Guru, one cannot acquire the true Gyan and was upset about it. He had heard of Swami Ramanand and wanted to take him as his Guru. Swami Ramanand did not use to accept people of low-caste as his disciple. Kabir, however, found a way out. Swami Ramanand used to go to the holy river Ganges for taking a bath early in the morning every day. One day Kabir laid himself on the path usually followed by Swami Ramanand on one of the steps leading from the river bank down to the river. Swami Ramanand when came to take bath early in the morning, without spotting him touched Kabir’s head by foot and on realizing that there was some one lying over there uttered ‘Ram’. Kabir immediately got up, caught hold of Swami Ramanand’s feet and expressed great happiness that Swami Ramanand had given him the Guru-Mantra. In this context Kabir himself says:

‘HUM KASHI MEIN PRAGAT

BHAYE HAIN, RAMANAND CHETAYE’.

Swami Ramanand was also impressed by his devotion. Kabir now started spending most of his time in Bhajan.Some people, however, believe that Kabir by birth was a Muslim but under the influence of Swami Ramanand he gained knowledge of the Hindu religion. It is also claimed by Muslim followers of Kabir that Kabir was initiated by a Sufi saint named Sheikh Taki but Kabir has not spoken so much about him as he spoke about Swami Ramanand. Besides, Kabir has also spoken about ‘Pir-Pitambar’, which goes to indicate that Kabir benefited from the satsang of many great saints. Kabir used to spend his time in satsang and Bhajan, people from various places used to visit him. Gradually his fame reached all around. Sadhus and saints of high order also started visiting him and the number of his followers kept on increasing. Kabir and ‘Loi’ were also connected. It is said that Loi was a disciple of Kabir. She observed

celibacy throughout her life. Kabir once went across the river Ganges. He was passing through a forest with some saints where he saw a lady living in a hut. In her early childhood, she had been left in the Ganges by her family. A Sadhu took her out of the river, looked after her and named her as ‘Loi’. After the death of that Sadhu she was living alone in the hut. This Sadhu had told her that her Guru is Kabir, who would come and visit her in this hut. She offered something to drink in bowls. Kabir kept one of thebowls and told her that one more Sadhu is coming over there. When Loi asked about the name of that Sadhu, he answered ‘Kabir’ and on asking his own name Kabir replied ‘Kabir’. Loi was surprised and then she remembered what had been told to her about Kabir being her Guru. She accepted Kabir as her Guru.

The verses of Sant Kabir started finding their way in the court of the then emperor, who visited Kashi and when he appeared before Kabir he felt so refreshed, as if his body was smeared with sandal-paste. Kabir attracted the attention of people towards the meaningless customs and rituals of the society. He openly criticized both Hindus and Muslims for theirsuperstitions and blind-imitation. He has said:

PATTHAR PUJE HARI MILEN, TO MEIN POOJOO PAHAR,

TATE TO CHAKI BHALI, PEES KHAY SANSAR;

(If by bowing before a stone one can reach the God then I shall bow before the

mountain; but I consider the grinding stone better as that makes the flour for food)

KANKAR PATTHAR JOD KE, MASJID LEYI CHUNAY,

TA CHAD MULLA BANG DE, KYA BAHARA HUA KHUDAY

(The muezzin is calling loudly from the turret of Mosque; I wonder whether the God has gone deaf?) This enraged the Qazi (judge or magistrate), who provoked Emperor Sikandar Lodhi against Kabir. It is said that the emperor was a bigot and staunch Muslim and Sufi Sheikh Taki also added fuel to the fire. In order to teach him a lesson, false allegations were made against Kabir that he criticizes Islam and encourages people towards idol worship and that he moves in the company of whores. The emperor asked him to be present in his court. Kabir appeared in the court but did not bow before the emperor. On being asked about it, he replied that he bowed only before the God. The emperor ordered him to be shackled and thrown in the river, but Kabir came out intact. In one of his verses Kabir has stated about his throwing into the river and breaking of the shackles by the waves of the river Ganges. The emperor was a sensitive and emotional person. He requested Kabir to forgive him. He was also deeply impressed by the miracles of Kabir. Sheikh Taki, however, was not happy with Kabir. It so happened that once the dead body of a boy was flowing in the river. Sheikh Taki said to the emperor that if Kabir was a true saint, he should bring life into the dead body. Kabir asked the dead body to come to life and immediately it came to life. Spontaneously Kabir uttered ‘Kamal’ (it is wonderful) and thereafter the boy came to be known as Kamal. Kabir took the boy with him. Similarly a dead girl was also given life by Kabir, who came to be known as Kamali. Kabir took her also with him. Both of them came to be known as children of Kabir. Later Kabir started living in Maghar.

Guru Nanak was a contemporary of Kabir. It is said that he had met Sant Kabir and was impressed by his Satya-sadhana (devotion to Truth), Ektavad (belief in unity of existence) and his commitment to Sant-mat. It is said that later Sheikh Taki also was impressed by Kabir and Kabir also interacted with him. Dharamdas is considered as one of the main disciples of Kabir. It is said that Dharamdas had met Kabir at the bank of river Yamuna.

Kabir lived a long life. He left this world at the age of 119 years. Towards the later part of his life it had become difficult for him to live in Kashi owing to his popularity. He, therefore, had moved to Maghar, where he breathed his last. It is said that his Hindu followers wanted to cremate him whereas his Muslim followers wanted to bury him. This dispute went on for some time. When people, however, lifted the shroud from his body, they found flowers instead of dead body, which were divided by them for performing the last rites according to their own traditions.

Kabir, though was not formally educated, he composed many verses using the language flowing from his heart, which included various local dialects as well. His disciples collected them in the form of ‘Sakhi’, ‘Shabd’, ‘Ramaini’ and ‘Bijak’. He was the first person to speak about the spiritual chakras beyond the seven chakras (from Mooladhar chakra to Sahsradalkamal) and talked of the process of manifestation and spiritual ascent in terms of ‘Nirat’, ‘Surat’ (consciousness) and ‘Shabda’ (vibration or ‘word’), which is dealt with in detail in the ‘Granth Adibhed’. Nirat is a misnomer for “Nritya’, which means dance or movement. By Nirat Sant Kabir meant the power of the soul that produces movement in the consciousness, i.e.which awakens the consciousness and leads it to move on higher planes. This is the power of the thought, the resolution, which awakens the consciousness. Surat means consciousness and the power that guides the consciousness is Nirat. Unless Nirat is activated, Surat cannot move ahead. All creatures manifest as a result of combination of ‘Surat’ with ‘Shabda’. In the higher spiritual realms, Surat and Shabda exist in unison but in the lower spiritual realms, they co-exist but separately. For spiritual ascent Surat needs to follow the Shabda and become one with it in order to reach the Origin of the Shabda, i.e. the God. In this context Sant Kabir has said:

‘JAPA MITE AJAPA MITE, ANHAD BHI MIT JAYE,

SURAT SAMANI SHABDA MEIN, TAHIN KAAL NAHI KHAYE’

To understand the meaning of activating the Nirat, example of a child would be appropriate. The child has consciousness and he utters some words, which do not carry any meaning. His Nirat has not been activated so far. He is now gradually trained to utter meaningful words such as milk or water etc. The child at this stage does not know what these words mean. He is then trained to understand the meaning of these words. This is activation of the Nirat. Once the Nirat is activated, it guides the consciousness to understand the true meaning of words. It is important to note that the mother uses the words to activate the Nirat of the child. It is thus through the transmission of word that Nirat is activated and then the consciousness is guided to understand the word. The ‘Nirat’ awakens the ‘Surat’ to the essential remembrance of its Origin (Saarshabda) in order that it can lead back to the Origin. Once the ‘Surat’ gets turned to the ‘Shabda’ it gradually becomes one with it and effortlessly traces back its Origin, the Truth.

In the spiritual realm, it is the Satguru (the true spiritual Master), who activates the Nirat for the seeker in order that he can engage the ‘Surat’ with the ‘Shabda’. The scriptures mention it in no uncertain terms that it is the Satguru who arouses the determination and lights the lamp in the heart of the disciple and keeps it burning.

Consider the couplet below:

‘GURU SAMAN DATA NAHI, YACHAK SHISHYA SAMAN,

TIN LOK KI SAMAPDA, PAL MAIN DINHI DAAN’

(There is no greater giver than the Master, who gives away all the treasures of the world to his disciple in a moment. The master gives this treasure in the form of Shabda by transmitting the Shabda from his heart to the heart of the disciple. The Shabda is invaluable, as the entire world has been created from the Shabda.)

One of his famous compositions relating to reaching the God is:

MOKO KAHAN DHUNDHE RE BANDE

MAIN TO TERE PAAS MEIN

NA TEERATH MEIN, NA MOORAT MEIN NA EKANT NIWAS MEIN

NA MANDIR MEIN, NA MASJID MEIN

NA KASHI KAILAS MEIN

NA MAIN JAP MEIN, NA MAIN TAP MEIN

NA MAIN BARAT UPAAS MEIN

NA MAIN KIRIYA KARAM MEIN REHTA

NAHI JOG SANYAS MEIN

NAHI PRAN MEIN NAHI PIND MEIN

NA BRAHMAND AKAS MEIN

NA MAIN PRAKURTI PRAWAT GUFA MEIN

NAHI SWASAN KI SWANS MEIN

KHOJI HOYE TURAT MIL JAOON

EK PAL KI TALAS MEIN

KAHAT KABIR SUNO BHAI SADHO

MAIN TO HOON VISWAS MEIN

(Meaning thereby-where are you looking for Me? I am with you. I am neither in pilgrimage nor in idols, nor in solitude. I am neither in temples nor in mosques, nor in Kaba or in Kailash. I am neither in Japa nor in Tapa, nor in resolutions or in fasts. I am neither in observing rituals nor in yoga or in Sanyas, nor am I in breathing or in the body. I am neither in the skies nor in the universe, nor in the caves or in Pranayam. Yes, if there is a true seeker, I can be reached in a moment. Kabir says listen O Sadhu! I can be reached only through faith.)

Here are some important quotes of Kabir to contemplate: "All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop." "Love doesn’t grow on trees nor bought in the market, but if one wants to be ‘loved’, one must first know how to give (unconditional) love.” "Many have died; you also will die. The drum of death is being beaten. The world has fallen in love with a dream. Only sayings of the wise will remain. "

“Admire the diamond that can bear the hits of a hammer. Many deceptive preachers, when critically examined, turn out to be false.”

“Don’t go to the garden of flowers! O friend! Go not there; in your body is the garden of flowers. Take your seat on the thousand petal lotus and gaze there the infinite beauty.”

“Now I have no caste, no creed, I am no more what I am!”