Bhagat Kabir Ji: A Predecessor of Northern Bhakti Movement
Bhagat Kabir ji was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim by religion. Humanity was Kabir's religion and spirituality is the only path taught by him to achieve the love and mercy of the True Lord. Bhagat Kabir's caste (Julaha), that was associated with Nath Jogis, who was also known as Kana Pata Jogis.
Jogis do not believe in the eternity of the Brahm and they also do not have any belief in the Hindu Vedas, Shastras, Smritis, and Puranas. These people are considered to be part of the lower class of Hindu society. On the arrival of Islam in India, most of the Yogis converted to Islam and some of them were even considered to be both Jogis as well as a Muslims. But they perform their funeral as per Hindu rituals. From Kabir's hymn, one thing is clear that he declares himself neither a Hindu nor a Muslim.
Now no quarrel have I left.
Brahmin and Mulla both have I discarded.1
Bhakti Movement originated in the south India by the Bhagats from among the so-called lower castes of South India (especially the Tamil province). The Brahmins had restricted these saints, who belonged to the lower castes, from karma, religion, seva (service), simran etc. These devotees were called 'Advar' or 'Alvar' (the divers of the spiritual ocean). These saints paved their new path of worship by singing the ambrosial words and sacred hymns.According to a legend, worship (Bhagti movement) originated in the South and began to grow towards Karnataka, and then coming to Maharashtra, Gujarat and became feeble. But after coming to northern India, it revived.
As it reached northern India, Bhakti Movement revived. The prevailing position about this condition of Bhakti is that:
ਉਤਪੰਨਾ ਦ੍ਰਾਵੜੇ ਸਾਹੰਦ੍ਰਿ੍ਹੀ ਕਰਣਾਟਕੇ ਮਤ:|
ਕਵਚਿਤ ਕਵਚਿਤ ਮਹਾਂਰਾ੍ਹਟ੍ਰੇ ਜੀਰਣਤਾ ਮਤ:|2
Another myth in the Sadhu Samaj is famous that Ramanand has brought Bhakti from South and Kabir Ji made it so much popular that it became wide spread across the whole India continent:
ਭਕਤੀ ਦ੍ਰਾਵਿੜ ਉਪਜੀ ਲਾਯੋ ਰਾਮਾਨੰਦ|
ਪਰਗਟ ਕਿਆ ਕਬੀਰ ਨੇ ਸਪਤ ਦੀਪ ਨਵਖੰਡ|3
Kabir and his ancestors are also associated with Ramanujacharaya, the master of the great principality. Bhakti movement established by Ramanujacharaya was extremely popular in South India. After Ramanujacharaya, following Bhaktas respectively became the successors of Bhakti tradition:
Ramanand came to Kashi (North India) from the south and preached the bhakti. Ramanuja propagated Rama Bhakti while Ramanand shifted his devotion from Sargun (Divine with Form) to Nirgun (Formless Divine). After that, Bhagat Kabir further explained the Nirgun stream of Bhakti.
Bhagats like Namdev, Ravidas, Dhanna and Sain from shudra tribes also worshipped God. But this worship of God by these bhagats brought a different idea or concept of God in human society than Brahmanism. This concept refers to both humanism as well as spiritualism. Of course, before Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Baba Farid and Namdev also talked about the devotion to One God while talking about humanity. Then Kabir and his contemporaries also highlighted the signifinance social welfare as well as the worship of God.
Dr Jasvir Singh Sabar writes, "In the Bhakti movement, Bhagat Kabir contributed the most and that is why he attained the status of Shiromani (supermost) Bhagat. Bhagat Kabir became the Messiah for ignorant people and directed them to a single path of devotion to God. He rescued the people who were being exploited by the Qazis and Pandas and showed them the path of devotion to One sole Creator (The Cosmic Reality)."4
All the Indian Bhaktas and social reformers of the Medieval ages, however, taught people to live with honesty while rejecting caste differences. But Kabir opposed casteism in more forceful words. The Brahminical thinking among the Hindus established the phenomenon of casteism across contemporary society. Earlier Indian society was divided into four sections.5 People of one ethnic group did not have any right to socialize with other people. This is typical of Indian society, particularly among the Hindus. The first section consisted of Brahmins, who were considered to be of the highest rank of society. They would be the scholars, diplomats, educators etc. The second group of the population was Kshtriyas, who were required to fight in battles and rule. The third group was of Vaishas, the business community. The fourth group was of shudras and their duty was to serve the other three classes and do all the menial jobs. This group consisted of very poor, untouchables and who were always suppressed and exploited. They had no right to own property, to read (scriptures), to follow religion, to have good food and dress. No sense of belonging for anything or anywhere, except service at other's command. Similarly, during that period, Muslims were divided into two sects of Shias and Sunnis. Because of their influence, Mughal rulers did great injustice to Indians by forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. It was a time when Mughal ruler Sikandar Lodhi was preaching his religion with utmost determination and did not allow anyone to speak against Islam.6 Kabir strictly opposed such fundamentalism. When Sikander Lodhi came to Kashi, he attempted to punish Kabir but remained unsuccessful. Therefore, Kabir created awareness among the people, which created new hope and resentment among the low-castes against the traditional social discrimination. Thus central thought of his Bani is in opposition to the caste system and his firm belief that all the people having originated from a single Divine Light (creator), all were equal.
God first created Light; all else to His might subject.
Since from one Light is the whole world created – who is noble, who inferior?7
Folks, brethren! Be not lost in illusion.
The Creator is in the creation; in the creation abides the Creator, Parvasive everywhere.8
Kabir clearly writes that birth in the higher caste does not make one a Brahmin, he who meditates on Brahm (Creator God) is a real Brahmin:
How are you a Brahmin and I a low-caste?
Is it that I have blood in my veins and you have milk?
Say Kabir: "He alone who Contemplates his Lord,
Is renowned a Brahmin among the men of God".9
Kabir tells us through a saloka that people of high caste make fun of him due to the name of my low caste. But I have no regrets for this is sacrifice to that creator, Who has given birth to him in a lower caste and given an opportunity to recite the name (simran). If he had been born in a higher caste then I would not have been aware and I would have been deprived of the most important purpose of Human life. He writes:
Saith Kabir: All make fun of my caste.
I to this caste am a sacrifice where in the Creator I have contemplated.10
Not only that, Kabir opposed social inequalities and the prevailing religious and social hypocrisy, existing customs and rituals. He not only provided the illustration from these religious and prevalent practices in society but also propagated an assertive way to overcome these evils.
Kabir also displayed the moral decline among the followers of Hindu and Muslim religions while condemning the contemporary Mughal rule. He strongly urged Hindus and Muslims to understand the true meaning of religion, in opposition to religious commands of scriptures such as Vedas and practices such as undertaking fasting, Rozas, wearing Janeu and going through circumcision etc:
Listen, Kazi! you observe fasts and propitiate Allah,
Yet for the pleasure of your tongue slaughter living creatures.
Of your ego are you mindful and of none else-
Why engage in worthless pursuit?.11
Hindus through worship of Idols are ruined,
And Mohammadans through bowing of head.
Those are burnt, these buried – neither has realization of Thy mystery.12
As Hazari Prasad Dwivedi has said in his book 'Kabir' that Kabir's parental home was in the vicinity of the Yogic Math (monastry). Therefore, the influence of that belief is seen his compositions, language and hybridism. While Gorakhnath Panthi yogis stressed upon the yogic symbols such as earrings, Kabir regarded these as superficial. Instead of wearing these symbols, they should act upon the spirit behind these symbols. He writes:
Make silent meditation your earrings, compassion the pouch,
Contemplation your begging-bowl.
Thy patched coat stitching the body against evil passions,
The Name your sustenance. (1)
Yogi! be such your Yoga-praxis.
By the Master's guidance experience contemplation,
Austerity and self-restraint.13
Therefore, Kabir says that the vicious cycle of birth cannot be eliminated death through traditional Hatth-Yoga practices:
Be one Yogi, celibate, ascetic, sannyasi,
Or wander over numerous bathing-spots;
Be one a Jainu monkwith hair plucked or a Bairagi with girdle of straw,
Wear matted hair or observe woes of silence-
All ultimately must meet death.14
In short, Bhagat Kabir was not only a great spiritually enlightened saint but also a great social crusader, who empowered the exploited people and explored the brought out the futility of these traditional practices. We can say that Bhagat Kabir played a crucial role in the entire Bhakti Movement and strengthened this movement. He was the precursor of social awakening who weakened the hegemony of deeply entrenched religious ideologies. The present Dalit renaissance has it roots in the Kabir's verses and spiritual tenets.
1. ਹਮਰਾ ਝਗਰਾ ਰਹਾ ਨ ਕੋਊ ॥ ਪੰਡਿਤ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਛਾਡੇ ਦੋਊ ॥ Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1158
2. ਨਾਨਕ ਪ੍ਰਕਾਸ ਪੱਤ੍ਰਿਕਾ, ਭਗਤ ਕਬੀਰ ਵਿਸ਼ੇਸ਼ ਅੰਕ, ਅੰਕ ਪਹਿਲਾ, ਪੰਨਾ 26
4. Sri Guru Granth Sahib bichon samilat Sant Kabir ji Di Bani de Parumkh Sur, Dr Jasbir Singh Sabar
5. Alberuni,s India, Sachau, Edward C.(tr.), London 1914, p.100
6. Tarikh-i-Baudi, (Eliot & Dowson), Vol.4, pp. 464-465
7. ਅਵਲਿ ਅਲਹ ਨੂਰੁ ਉਪਾਇਆ ਕੁਦਰਤਿ ਕੇ ਸਭ ਬੰਦੇ ॥ ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ॥Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1349
8. logw Brim n BUlhu BweI ] Kwilku Klk Klk mih Kwilku pUir rihE sRb TWeI ] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1350
9. qum kq bRwhmx hm kq sUd ] hm kq lohU qum kq dUD ] 3 ] khu kbIr jo bRhmu
bIcwrY ] so bRwhmxu khIAqu hY hmwrY] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 324
10. kbIr myrI jwiq kau sBu ko hsnyhwru ] bilhwrI ies jwiq kau ijh jipE isrjnhwru] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1364
11. rojw DrY mnwvY Alhu suAwdiq jIA sMGwrY ] Awpw dyiK Avr nhI dyKY kwhy kau JK mwrY] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 483
12. buq pUij pUij ihMdU mUey qurk mUey isru nweI ] Eie ly jwry Eie ly gwfy qyrI giq duhU n pweI ] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 654
13. muMdRw moin dieAw kir JolI pqR kw krhu bIcwru ry ] iKMQw iehu qnu sIAau Apnw nwmu krau AwDwru ry] AYsw jogu kmwvhu jogI ] jp qp sMjmu gurmuiK BogI] buiD ibBUiq cFwvau ApunI isMgI suriq imlweI ] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 970
14. jogI jqI qpI sMinAwsI bhu qIrQ BRmnw ] luMijq muMijq moin jtwDr AMiq qaU mrnw ] Sri Guru Granth Sahib, p. 476
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