Kabir

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Al-Kabir ("the Great") is also one of the 99 names of God in Islam. For a complete disambiguation page, see Kabir (disambiguation)

Kabir Das
Painting of Kabir and disciple
An 1825 CE painting depicts Kabir with a disciple
Born c. 1440
Lahartara near Kashi (present-day Varanasi)
Died c. 1518
Maghar
Occupation Weaver, poet
Known for influenced the Bhakti movement, Sikhism, Sant Mat and Kabir Panth

Kabīr (also Kabīra) (Hindi: कबीर, Punjabi: ਕਬੀਰ, Urdu: کبير‎) (c. 1440–c. 1518)[1][2][3][4] was a mystic poet and saint 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.

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 9.6 million. 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.[5] His writings include Bijak, Sakhi Granth, Kabir Granthawali and Anurag Sagar.[6]

Philosophies[edit]

Kabir's legends describe his victory in trials by a Sultan, a Brahmin, a Qazi, a merchant and god. The ideological messages in Kabir's legends appealed to the poor and oppressed. David Lorenzen describes primary purpose of his legends as a "protest against social discrimination and economic exploitation".[7]

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. The hallmark of Kabir's works consists of his two line couplets, known as the 'Kabir ke Dohe'. The 'Dohas' reflect the deep philosophical thinking of the poet saint.

Poetry[edit]

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.[8] 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.[citation needed]

Indian postage stamp portraying Kabir, 1952

Legacy[edit]

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."[9]

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.[10] 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."[11]

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.[12]

Kabir's influence was so big that similar to how different communities argued to cremate the Buddha upon his death, after Kabir died both the Hindus and Muslims argued to cremate it in Varanasi or bury it in Maghahar them according to their tradition.[13]

Kabir's poetry today[edit]

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.

The album No Stranger Here by Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker and Business Class Refugees draws heavily from Kabir's poetry.

Kabir's poetry has appeared prominently in filmmaker Anand Gandhi's films Right Here Right Now (2003) and Continuum.

Pakistani Sufi singer Abida Parveen has sung Kabir in a full album.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ Carol Henderson Garcia; Carol E. Henderson (2002). Culture and Customs of India. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-0-313-30513-9. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Hugh Tinker (1990). South Asia: A Short History. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-0-8248-1287-4. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Narrative Section of a Successful Application". Claflin University. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Westcott, G. H. (2006). Kabir and the Kabir Panth. Read Books. p. 2. ISBN 1-4067-1271-X. 
  6. ^ The Ocean of Love– The Anurag Sagar of Kabir
  7. ^ Lorenzen, David (1991). Kabir Legends and Ananta-Das's Kabir Parachai. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-1127-9. 
  8. ^ Scudiere, Todd. "Rare Literary Gems: The Works of Kabir and Premchand at CRL". South Asian Studies, Spring 2005 Vol. 24, Num. 3. Center for Research Libraries. 
  9. ^ The Vision of Kabir: Love poems of a 15th Century Weaver, (1984) Alpha & Omega, pp. 47 ASIN: B000ILEY3U
  10. ^ The Vision of Kabir: Love poems of a 15th Century Weaver, (1984) Alpha & Omega, pp. 49-51 ASIN: B000ILEY3U
  11. ^ The Vision of Kabir: Love poems of a 15th Century Weaver, (1984) Alpha & Omega, page 55 ASIN: B000ILEY3U
  12. ^ The Vision of Kabir: Love poems of a 15th Century Weaver, (1984) Alpha & Omega, page 48 ASIN: B000ILEY3U
  13. ^ P. 192 The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture in Historical Perspective by Ariel Glucklich

Further reading[edit]

  • Bly, Robert, tr. Kabir: Ecstatic Poems. Beacon Press, 2004. (ISBN 0-8070-6384-3)
  • Dass, Nirmal, tr. Songs of Kabir from the Adi Granth. SUNY Press, 1991. (ISBN 0-7914-0560-5)
  • Duggal, [edited by]G. N. Das ; foreword by K.S. (1992). Love songs of Kabir. Sittingbourne: Asia. ISBN 978-0-948724-33-6. 
  • Kabir. Compilation of Kabir's dohas in Devanagiri. Kabir ke dohey
  • Masterman, David, ed/rev. Kabir says... Los Angeles: Three Pigeons Publishing, 2011.
  • Tagore, Rabindranath, tr. Songs of Kabir. Forgotten Books, 1985. (ISBN 1-60506-643-5) Songs of Kabir
  • Vaudeville, Charlotte. A Weaver Named Kabir: Selected Verses with a Detailed Biographical and Historical Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. (ISBN 0-19-563933-2)
  • KavitaKosh.org Compilation of Kabir's dohas in Devanagiri Kabir Page on Kavitakosh

External links[edit]