Kabir was born in 1440 A.D. The probable date of his death is 1519 A.D. as mentioned in Kabir Ka Santi. Kal died at Maghar near Gorakhpur. He was found lying as a child in the lake called Lahar Talao near Kashi on a leaf of lotus. Here he was found by Niru, a childless Mohammedan weaver who was going with his wife Nima to attend a function in neighbouring village. They took compassion on the forsaken baby. They took him to their home and there they brought him up as their own child. A Kazi was called in to give the child a name. The Kazi told Niru that the child was a demon should be killed immediately. A miracle happened. The knife was plunged into the heart of the child. No drop of blood came out. Kabir uttered a verse which made them understand that he was not ordinary flesh and blood. Then the namke 'Kabir' was given to the child. The word 'Kabir' means 'great' in the Arabic language.
Kabir seems to have been of Hindu parentage, though adopted and brought up as a Mohammedan. It is said that he was born of a Brahmin girl-widow, who, to hide her shame left the child in the lake. But in a stanza, Kabir denies own conception in a womb. He says that he was not born did he not dwell in a womb (vide page 122, Vol. VI, Macauliff's Sikh Religion). Kabir grew up without food. adopted parents became very anxious about him. Then began to drink the milk of a calf which yielded milk daily in miraculous manner.
The life of Kabir is shrouded in mystery. We know nothing of his early training and career. What has benn discovered in the way of his biographical details is very little. Beyond the facts that he was a weaver, born of poverty-striken parents, that he lived at Kashi. during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, that he was a disciple of the great religious reformer Ramananda, and that he himself was the Guru of a number of distinguished disciples, we know positively nothing about Kabir.
From his early boyhood, Kabir was very much religiously inclined. He was of a reflective disposition. He had very often his mystic moods. Even in his childhood he engaged himself in discussions about God with Sadhus. He received and served Sadhus and Sannyasins with intense devotion and faith. Though his foster-father got him married, Kabir was not attached to home and family. He used to roam about the holy city of Kashi. He earned his livelihood from the loom.
Kabir remained for a long time without a Guru. He wanted to become the disciple of Ramananda. As he was a Mohammedan, he doubted whether Ramananda would accept him as his disciple. One day, he went and hid himself on the steps of the Ghat of the Ganges to which Ramananda used to come every morning to take his bath. That day, the great preacher Ramananda came to bathe as usual. It was still dark. Ramananda did not see the sleeping Kabir. He placed his feet upon Kabir's chest. As soon as he found out that he had trodden upon a human body, he cried out 'Ram...Ram...' Kabir started up and said, "I have found him at last". He fell at the feet of Ramananda and said, 'Thou hast given me the word of initiation and I am thy disciple now". Ramananda was struck with the sincerity and devotion of Kabir and accepted him as his disciple. Kabir was formally initiated by the great teacher.
Kabir joined in the theological and philosophical disputes which his master held with all the great Mullahs and Brahmins of his day. A famous Brahmin named Sarvajit, who was well-versed in logic, came to Kashi. The Pundits of Kashi informed Ramananda of the arrival of the learned Brahmin and told him that no one could defeat the erudite logician. Ramananda sent Kabir to argue with him. The orthodox Pundit asked: "0 Kabir! What is your caste?" Kabir replied, "I am a weaver". The proud Pundit sneered at Kabir in a contemptuous manner and asked what a weaver was. Kabir replied:
"No one knoweth the secret of the weaver,
God hath woven the warp of the whole world.
If thou listen to the Vedas and the Puranas,
Thou shalt hear: I have stretched the warp so long;
I have made the Earth and Firmament my workshop,
I have set the Sun and the Moon in alternate motion,
Working my legs I did one work' - with such a weaver my heart is pleased."
Kabir was like Guru Nanak. He was loved by both the Hindus and the Mohammedans. He was not of one religion or of one nation. He was the prophet of universal brotherhood. He did not observe the rules of caste. He recognised the higher harmony of Hinduism and Islam. He realised the truth that religion, spirituality, love, devotion, faith and divine life were the monopoly of no one religion, but were common to all religions. Kabir's religion was a religion of simplicity. His motto was love. His means of salvation was devotion to God and God alone. Kabir's home was the universe, his brother was mankind and his great father was the Father in Heaven. Kabir did not renounce the world in order to devote himself to the practice of severe austerities and meditation. He was a dynamic Yogi. He worked at the loom, and at the same time, his mind was ever fixed on God.
Kabir began to attract a large number of people. Many became his disciples. They all gathered round him at the loom or in the market-place to listen to his sweet, soul-stirring and sublime songs and inspiring discourses. Mysterious are the ways of prophets and saints! They preach silently. Wise men only are profited by their teachings. They only can really understand them. Kabir preached the unity of men and creeds. The orthodox Brahmins of Kashi tried their level best to pull him down. They sent a young and beautiful courtesan to tempt Kabir, but like the Magdalene of Biblical story, she was converted by the spiritual power of Kabir.
Kabir was an exponent of Nirguna Bhakti. He had supreme love for all. He was exceedingly kind and compassionate. He was fearless. He never asked anybody to follow him. He roamed about the country singing his songs. He condemned all formalities and ritualism. He made a vehement criticism of conventions. He was a social revolutionary. He also endeavoured strenuously for the social, moral and spiritual uplift of the people. That is the reason why he still lives in the heart of all people.
Kabir was a great propagandist in his own way. He tried his level best to bring about concord and harmony among the diversity existing around him. His poetry was full of criticism of the Mullahs and the priests. Kabir not only preached, but lived the life of unity of men and creeds. He used his songs as weapons against the Mullahs and the priests. He did not spare words in the wars he waged against Muslim and Hindu orthodoxy. Kabir was a powerful saint with Self-realisation which lent him the authority to live and preach the Truth without fear or restraint.
Kabir says, "I am the child of Allah and of Ram". It is very difficult to say whether he was a Brahmin or a Mohammedan, a Sufi or a Vedantin, a Vaishnavite or a Ramanandin. The Hindus take him as a Brahmin saint, the Mohammedans regard him as a Sufi. A sect known as 'Kabir-panth' to which some lakhs of Hindus of Northern India still belong, was founded by Kabir's followers. But Kabir himself was above all sects, cults and creeds. The story that at his death the Hindus and the Mohammedans quarreled over his corpse, each group claiming him as a follower of their own religion, lends support to this view. Narsi Mehta, Vidyapati, Umapati, Mira Bai and Raidas were some of the famous contemporaries of Kabir.
Kabir, the poet-saint of Kashi, is one of the most interesting personalities in the history of Indian mysticism. He was an illustrious philosopher-poet. He was a skilled musician and a poet as well. He was a prophet. His songs are wonderful. They are the spontaneous expressions of his spiritual experience and his love. Kabir used homely metaphors in his songs. He sang his religion in popular verse. His verses are repeated, even today, in almost every household in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Kabir's doctrines are soul-stirring and magnanimous. Some of Kabir "s poems are very mystic.
Kabir had marvelous spiritual powers. He did a number of miracles. It is recorded that a cloth was woven by Krishna for him. It was the most splendid coloured cloth that was ever seen in Kashi. It was woven not of threads but of the rays of sunlight and shot through with beams here and there of the most delicate rainbow.
The Kazi killed a cow. Kabir raised the dead cow back to life in order to expiate for the heinous crime of cow-killing.
Some people complained to the emperor Sikander Lodi that Kabir was leading the people astray by preaching false doctrines. Kabir was brought before the emperor. The courtiers asked Kabir to make salutations to the emperor. Kabir replied: "I have no business with an emperor. I can do business with my God alone, my God who is the support of this world and who is the real Emperor of this world. I know the Name of God. I can sing His praise only. I can meditate on Him. I do not know how to prostrate before an emperor. I have never attended the court or Durbar of any emperor up to this time". Sikander Lodi became angry when he heard the words of Kabir; but he, being a man of culture, allowed Kabir to go back peacefully. Though his life was spared, Kabir was banished from the city of Kashi. This took place in 1495 A.D. when Kabir was fifty-six years of age.
The name of Kabir's wife was Loi. Kamal was his son. Dharam Das was his chief disciple. Jhali, queen of Chitore, was his royal disciple. Kabir used to live with his wife in a hut in a solitary place outside the city. He used to feed the Sadhus or ascetics who went to his place. One day he had nothing. Many hungry ascetics came to his hut. Kabir was in an agitated condition. His wife said, "0 Lord, if you permit me, I can get some money from the banker's son". Kabir said, "How can you get the money from him? He is a very great miser". His wife said, "He is very much enamored of me. He said the other day that he would give me money. Let us take the money and teach him a very good lesson". Kabir replied, "That is good. Go to him immediately and bring some money. The ascetics are very hungry. They have not taken any food for the last three days".
Loi went to the house of the banker and saw his young son. She promised to meet him at plight. He at once gave her the money she needed. Loi came back to her hut and handed over the money to her husband. All the Sadhus were fed sumptuously.
There was a great downpour of rain that night. There was a big storm also. Kabir covered his wife with a blanket and took her on his shoulder, in storm and rain, to the house of the banker. Loi entered the compartment of the banker's son. Kabir waited outside to take her back home. The young man rejoiced at the sight of Loi. He was quite astonished to see her in his room on such a stormy and rainy night. He said to her, "My dear, how have you managed to come to my house? You are not drenched. Your feet are quite clean. There is no mud on your feet. It is a great wonder!". Loi replied, "My husband has carried me here on his shoulder". The young man was struck with amazement and awe. He became a changed man at once. He wept bitterly and said, "Loi, has your husband brought you to me?". He regarded Loi as his mother and at once prostrated at her feet. He said to her, "Thou art my mother. Forgive me for my evil intention". He ran to the place where Kabir was standing. He fell at his feet and cried, "0 venerable Guru! I am a great sinner. Purify me. Elevate me. Bless me. I take refuge in thy lotus feet. I am a suppliant before thee. I am thy humble devotee". From that day the banker's son became one of the faithful devotees of Kabir.
Mysterious are the ways of saints and prophets. By their simple touch and Darshan, the worst sinners and scoundrels become transmuted into great saints. Extreme Rajas takes a Sattvic turn. The passionate young man, the banker's son whose mind was filled with Rajas, became a pious and Sattvic man.
One day, Jahangast, a Mohammedan Fakir who heard of the great fame of Kabir, went to see him. He was jealous of Kabir. Kabir quickly tied a fat pig at his door. The Fakir saw the pig and did not enter the compound of Kabir's hut. Kabir called him back and said, "0 great Fakir! Why are you running now? I have tied up the unclean pig at my door. But you have tied what is unclean-anger, pride, greed and jealousy- in your heart". The Fakir bent his head down in shame. He asked Kabir's pardon and immediately became his disciple.
Kabir's works are mostly collections of songs composed in the various metres of old Hindi. There are seventy-two works. The most important and famous works are: the Kabir Bijaky the Suknidhan, Sabdas, Sakhis, Rekhtas, Mangal, Vasant and Holi Agams. The Kabir Bijak is the great authority on all religious matters and doctrines of the Kabir-panthis.
Kabir's language is very simple. His style is beautiful. His expression of ideas is very bold. His poetic composition is most natural. Each couplet is pregnant with deep significance. The similes and metaphors are most appropriate. Other characteristic features are depth of feeling and directness of speech. The expressions have emanated straight from Kabir's heart. Kabir's skill in compressing a world of sense in a simple couplet is marvellous and unrivalled. His sayings are unparalleled. His poems are soul-stirring and inspiring. There is depth of thought and penetrative insight.
When Kabir died, his body was claimed by both the Hindus and the Mohammedans. The King of Kashi, with thousands of Hindus, wanted to cremate the body. The Hindus claimed that Kabir was a Hindu and that therefore his body should be burnt. Bizli Khan, with thousands of Mohammedans, wanted to bury it. The Mohammedans said that Kabir was a Muslim and therefore his body ought to be buried under Mohammedan rites.
While they were quarrelling, Kabir's apparition appeared and said, "I was neither a Hindu nor a Mohammedan. I was both. I was nothing. I was all. I discern God in both. There is no Hindu and no Mussalman. To him who is free from delusion, Hindu and Mussalman are the same. Remove the shroud and behold the miracle.
The shroud was removed. A large quantity of flowers was seen under it. Half of the flowers was taken by the King of Kashi and burnt on the bank of the holy Ganges. The ashes were then buried and a temple was built. This temple is known by the name of Kabir Cheura-a great place of pilgrimage for the followers of Kabir. The other half of the flowers was taken by the Mohammedans and buried at Maghar where Kabir died. A mosque was built over the grave. This is a place of pilgrimage for the Mohammedans.
Sayings of Kabir
- The life is passed in turning the beads, but the darkness of the heart is not destroyed. Leave the turning of beads by the hand, but turn the beads of your mind.
- If you have no devotion to God, you will not gain anything by pilgrimage. You may roam over the country and yet your heart will be impure. The man who has gone to Varanasi to see Lord Viswanath, but has not destroyed hypocrisy, lust and greed and has no devotion, will gain nothing.
- I am very fond of the words of my sweetheart-Beloved (God). I do not get any solace if anybody tries to console me in other ways. If you make a fish lie on agolden cot and give it ambrosia to drink, it will surely die in no time.
- The diamond appraiser only can know the value of the diamond. Kabir says: only he who has developed devotion can attain God.
- Show thou a rose to him that showeth thee a thorn. To thee there is always a rose; to him there is a thorn for ever more.
- Have no faith in this perishable body. Remember the Lord by all your breaths; that is the only way to salvation.
- "Why dost thou trample Upon me?" crieth the earth to the potter, "A day will come when I shall trample upon thee".
- The body is an inn and the mind a bird that has willingly taken a lodging in it. It is but a truism that none is none's relative.
- 'Virtue' abides where there is compassion, 'vice' where there is greed; 'death' where there is wrath, and the Lord Himself where there is forgiveness.
- Every forest does not contain a sandal tree; -eve.ry army does not contain" a real soldier; every sea does not contain pearls; even so, a Sadhu or a saint or a Mahatma is not found everywhere in the world.
- Have patience; everything comes out in time. The gardener waters the plant daily, but it bears fruit only in season.
- If I turn the whole earth into paper, all the trees into pens and the seven seas into ink, even then the greatness of the Lord cannot be fully described.
- There is no greater evil than a bad word; it bums everything into ashes. A kind word is, on the contrary, like rain that falls in nectar-like torrents.
- A word is priceless if one knows how to use it. Let every word be weighed in the scales of the heart before it is given out.
- Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today, nor till the evening what you can do this very moment; for you know not when death may overtake you, upsetting all your plans.
- He alone is the hero who has all the five senses at his command. He who has no such control never approaches the Lord.
- A dumb man, having tasted sugar, cannot express its taste. Even so, the experience of Self-realisation cannot be expressed.
- Just as sugar toys are made of sugar and sugar exists in all of them, even so, the whole universe exists in Brahman and Brahman in it.
- The sugar and the sugar toys are not two things; they both are one. Similarly, when real knowledge dawns, the manifold universe appears as one.
- Just as the tree is in the seed and the seed in the tree, even so is the world in Brahman.