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|A 1825 CE painting depicts Kabir with a disciple|
|influenced the Bhakti movement|
Kabīr (also Kabīra) (Hindi: कबीर, Punjabi: ਕਬੀਰ, Urdu: کبير) (1440–1518) was a mystic poet and sant of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement. The name Kabir comes from Arabic al-Kabīr which means 'The Great' – the 37th name of God in Islam.
Apart from having an important influence on Sikhism, Kabir's legacy is today carried forward by the Kabir Panth ("Path of Kabir"), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat sects. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are estimated to be around 9,600,000. They are spread over north and central India, as well as dispersed with the Indian diaspora across the world, up from 843,171 in the 1901 census. His writings include Bijak, Sakhi Granth, Kabir Granthawali and Anurag Sagar.
Not much is known of Kabir's birth parents, but it is known that he was brought up in a family of Muslim weavers. He was found by a Muslim weaver named Niru and his wife, Nima, in Lehartara, situated in Varanasi. Both Niru and Nima were very poor and illiterate. They adopted the boy and taught him the weaver's trade.
It is not known in detail what sort of spiritual training Kabir may have received. He did not become a sadhu, nor did he ever abandon worldly life. Kabir chose instead to live the balanced life of a householder and mystic, a tradesman and contemplative.
We do know, however, that his early spiritual training came from Ramananda, who became his guru when Kabir was still a child. There are various versions of how Ramananda came to accept Kabir as his disciple. What all the versions agree is that Kabir tricked Ramananda into giving him a mantra for meditation, which forced him to accept Kabir as his disciple. Kabir's family is believed to have lived in the locality of Kabir Chaura in Varanasi. Kabīr maṭha (कबीरमठ), a maṭha located in the back alleys of Kabir Chaura, celebrates his life and times. Accompanying the property is a house named Nīrūṭīlā (नीरू टीला) which houses Niru and Nima's graves. The house also accommodates students and scholars who live there and study Kabir's work.Philosophies
Kabir was influenced by the prevailing religious mood of his times, such as old Brahmanic Hinduism, Tantrism, the teachings of Nath yogis and the personal devotionalism of South India mixed with the imageless God of Islam. The influence of these various doctrines is clearly evident in Kabir's verses. Eminent historians like R.C. Majumdar, P.N. Chopra, B.N. Puri and M.N. Das have held that Kabir is the first Indian saint to have harmonised Hinduism and Islam by preaching a universal path which both Hindus and Muslims could tread together. But there are a few critics who contest such claims.
The basic religious principles he espoused are simple. According to Kabir, all life is an interplay of two spiritual principles. One is the personal soul (Jivatma) and the other is God (Paramatma). It is Kabir's view that salvation is the process of bringing these two divine principles into union. The incorporation of much of his verse in Sikh scripture, and the fact that Kabir was a predecessor of Guru Nanak, have led some western scholars to mistakenly describe him as a forerunner of Sikhism.
His greatest work is the Bijak (the "Seedling"), an idea of the fundamental one. This collection of poems elucidates Kabir's universal view of spirituality. Though his vocabulary is replete with Hindu spiritual concepts, such as Brahman, karma and reincarnation, he vehemently opposed dogmas, both in Hinduism and in Islam. His Hindi was a vernacular, straightforward kind, much like his philosophies. He often advocated leaving aside the Qur'an and Vedas and simply following Sahaja path, or the Simple/Natural Way to oneness in God. He believed in the Vedantic concept of atman, but unlike earlier orthodox Vedantins, he spurned the Hindu societal caste system and murti-pujan (idol worship), showing clear belief in both bhakti and Sufi ideas. The major part of Kabir's work as a bhagat was collected by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev, and incorporated into the Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib.Poetry
Kabir composed in a pithy and earthy style, replete with surprise and inventive imagery. His poems resonate with praise for the true guru who reveals the divine through direct experience, and denounce more usual ways of attempting god-union such as chanting, austerities, etc. Kabir, being illiterate, expressed his poems orally in vernacular Hindi, borrowing from various dialects including Avadhi, Braj, and Bhojpuri. His verses often began with some strongly worded insult to get the attention of passers-by. Kabir has enjoyed a revival of popularity over the past half century as arguably the most accessible and understandable of the Indian saints, with a special influence over spiritual traditions such as those of Sant Mat, Garib Das and Radha Soami.Legacy
A considerable body of poetical work has been attributed to Kabir. And while two of his disciples, Bhāgodās and Dharmadās, did write much of it down, "...there is also much that must have passed, with expected changes and distortions, from mouth to mouth, as part of a well-established oral tradition."
Poems and songs ascribed to Kabir are available today in several dialects, with varying wordings and spellings as befits an oral tradition. Opinions vary on establishing any given poem's authenticity. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the spirit of this mystic comes alive through a "unique forcefulness... vigor of thought and rugged terseness of style."
Kabir and his followers named his poetic output as ‘bāņīs,’ utterances. These include songs, as above, and couplets, called variously dohe, śalokā (Sanskrit: ślokā), or sākhī (Sanskrit: sākşī). The latter term, meaning ‘witness,’ best indicates the use that Kabir and his followers envisioned for these poems: “As direct evidence of the Truth, a sākhī is... meant to be memorized... A sākhī is... meant to evoke the highest Truth.” As such, memorizing, reciting, and thus pondering over these utterances constitutes, for Kabir and his followers, a path to spiritual awakening.Kabir's poetry today
There are several allusions to Kabir's poetry in mainstream Indian film music. The title song of the Sufi fusion band Indian Ocean's album Jhini is an energetic rendering of Kabir's famous poem "The intricately woven blanket", with influences from Indian folk, Sufi traditions and progressive rock.
Documentary filmmaker Shabnam Virmani, from the Kabir Project, has produced a series of documentaries and books tracing Kabir's philosophy, music and poetry in present day India and Pakistan. The documentaries feature Indian folk singers such as Prahlad Tipanya, Mukhtiyar Ali and the Pakistani Qawwal Fareed Ayaz.
Kabir's poetry has appeared prominently in filmmaker Anand Gandhi's films Right Here Right Now (2003) and Continuum.