Sources returnpage

Kabir

Category: Mystic

Kabir (also Kabira) was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose literature has greatly influenced the Bhakti movement of India.  Kabir ranks among the world's greatest poets and in India, he is frequently quoted.   The Guru Granth Sahib contains over 500 verses by Kabir. [The Guru Granth Sahib is the holy scripture of the Sikh community].   The Sikh community and others who follow the Holy Granth, hold Kabir, a Bhagat, in high reverence.

Kabir is associated with the Sant Mat,  a loosely related group of teachers that assumed prominence in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century. Their teachings are distinguished theologically by

inward loving devotion to a divine principle, and socially by an egalitarianism opposed to the qualitative distinctions of the Hindu caste hierarchy and to the religious differences between Hindu and Muslim”. 

Benares

 

The sants teachings were based on bhakti (devotion) as described in the Bhagavad Gita.   The first generation of north Indian sants, (which included Kabir), appeared in the region of Benares in the mid 15th century. Preceding them were two notable 13th and 14th century figures, Namdev and Ramananda.

Kabir was influenced by Brahmanic Hinduism, Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism and the teachings of Nath yogis. The influence of these various doctrines is clearly evident in Kabir's verses. The basic religious principle he espoused was that life is an interplay of two spiritual principles. One is the Higher spirit and the other is the Soul, but the Soul itself is formed of the Masculine Intellect and Conscious and the 'Female' Subconscious.  Kabir believed that ‘salvation’ was to be gained by  bringing these divine principles into union. So Ecstasy leading to Annihilation.

Benares - Yashwant Shirodkar

 

Kabir advocated leaving aside the Qur'an and Vedas and to follow the ‘Sahaja’ path, or the Simple/Natural Way to oneness in God.   He spurned the Hindu societal caste system and worship of murti [a murti is an image of a Divine Spirit. Hindus consider a murti worthy of worship after the divine is invoked in it for the purpose of offering worship].  From his poems, expressed in homely metaphors and religious symbols drawn from Hindu and Muslim belief, "it is impossible to say of their author whether he was Brâhmin or Sûfî, Vedântist or Vaishnavite, Pantheist or Transcendentalist"!  And who cares anyway – academic labels all of them. Unity in ascension, division in descent.

Poetry

 

His greatest work is believed to be the Bijak (the "Seedling"). This collection of poems includes ideas on Brahman, karma and Reincarnation.

"The poetry of mysticism might be defined on the one hand as a temperamental reaction to the vision of Reality: on the other, as a form of prophecy. As it is the special vocation of the mystical consciousness to mediate between two orders, going out in loving adoration towards God and coming home to tell the secrets of Eternity to other men; so the artistic self-expression of this consciousness has also a double character. It is love-poetry, but love-poetry which is often written with a missionary intention”.

Although the quote is a little pompous, it is not bad at describing what Kabîr's songs are : a combination of emotional joy and an attempt to describe to his readers what it is like to experience ecstasy or union. Written in the popular Hindi, not in the literary tongue, they were deliberately addressed—like the vernacular poetry of Jacopone da Todì and Richard Rolle —to the people rather than to the professionally religious class; he uses imagery drawn from common life, the universal experience.

'Benares' by Charles W. Bartlett

But his poetry is chock a block with symbolism.  You can read it, numerous ways.  For example, at a simple level you might think you were reading a jolly poem about marriage, but delve deeper using the symbolism on this site and you can then read it as intended as symbolic of the Mystic marriage.  He uses Roses, Gardens, Lotuses.  There are Birds, Horses, Chariots – his poetry is full of symbolism and stunningly beautiful with it.

There are in his universe no fences between the "natural" and "supernatural" worlds; everything is a part of the spiritual world, and therefore--even in its humblest details—capable of revealing the Creator's mind.

 

References

Watercolour by Edward Lear

Main books

  • Songs of Kabir, tr. by Rabindranath Tagore, 1985 ed., Forgotten Books.
  • Songs of Kabir from the Adi Granth, tr. by Nirmal Dass., 1991

 Other books

  • A Weaver Named Kabir: Selected Verses with a Detailed Biographical and Historical Introduction, new ed., by Charlotte Vaudeville, New York, 1998.
  • The Bijak of Kabir, by Linda Hess, Shukdeo Singh, Sukadev Sinha, Oxford University Press, US, 2002.
  • Kabir: Ecstatic Poems, tr. by Robert Bly. Beacon Press, 2004.
  • Kabir: The Weaver's Songs, tr. by Vinay Dharwadker. Penguin Books, 2005.

Observations

For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.