Kabir as Depicted in the Persian Sufistic and Historical Works- Dr. Qamaruddin
In the present age of comparative religious tolerance, it is no great to feat to preach religious harmony or to denounce meaningless ritual. But to do so almost five hundred years ago in a country like India called for a brave, a truly inspired man. Such a man was Kabir who was born in an age when the whole atmosphere in the country was charged with religious fanaticism. It was the age of caste tyranny at its worst, not only among the Hindus but also among the Muslims. The masses groaned under the heavy burden of rituals foisted by a corrupt clergy. The India of the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries experienced a religious turmoil and everywhere the need of religious and social reform was deeply felt.
The present paper on the great mystic and reformer Kabir contains information gleaned from all available sources (particularly Persian Sufistic and historical literature), some of which have not so far been examined by scholars; it also brings into light the attempts of Kabir to unite all the religions of India in a fervent belief in God, to condemn the division of society on the basis of community,ritual or dogma and to establish social and religious peace among the people of different faiths.
It is a well known fact that the proliferation of the caste led to social segregation in Hindu society and it was impossible for people of different castes even to eat together, let alone to intermarry. Kabir, being a weaver was subjected to this dissemination and had to employ a unique stratagem in forcing his initiation into the cult of Ramananda.
The advent of Islam in India did not bring a fundamental revolution in the basic conditions of Indian life. It effected a change in classes and in their relative position but did not uproot the institution of caste. In fact, Muslims themselves succumbed to the spirit of caste division and forgot all above the message of the Koran. However the Sufis in the early Indian Muslim period tried to heal the bitterness between Hindus and Muslims and cultivated some sort of rapprochement between the two peoples. But in spite of these efforts there was a wide gulf between the two. Their rites customs, ceremonies, dresses and their ways of living were quite different. The Muslim believed in one God and the Hindu in many Gods and Goddesses. The Hindus were largely monogamous while the Muslims believed is polygamy. People of the two communities cut their hair and dressed themselves differently. The Muslims called the Hindus Kafirs and the Hindus called the Muslims Malechhas (defiled persons).
This religious ferment which characterized the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and found expression in the lives and teachings of Saiyid Muhammad Jaunpuri, Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion and Kabir. Probably never before in Indian History had religious leadership sprung from that strata of society to which Kabir, Guru Nanak, and others belonged. Kabir rejected the caste system and cast doubt upon the authority of the Vedas and other sacred books and tended to create a religion which could be acceptable to the Hindus as well as the Muslims of India. Kabir’s influence in the development of religious thought and promotion of national integration has been enormous. He was perhaps the first and the most sincere exponent of a scheme of religious synthesis. The growth of democratic feeling in regard to religion, catholicity of spirit and genuine faith in the equality of men and universality of religion and, above all, an earnest desire for religious synthesis and national integration found explicit and passionate expression in the teachings of Kabir and Guru Nanak. Both tried to remove the antagonism of religious creeds, differences of castes and communities, barriers dividing men on the basis of birth and belief, and contributed towards the fusion of Hindu and Islamic societies.
Kabir had equal respect for the sacred books of Hindus and Muslims: ‘Say not that the Hindu or Musalman books are false; false is he who reflects not on them.’
The most distinctive feature of Kabir’s teachings is that he refused to accept a hierarchical division of society. His monotheism was more definite and ethical and his religious experience deeper. He aspired to a universal religion or at least a religion which raised itself above caste. The chief aim of his teaching was to find an acceptable means of reconciling castes and communities of Northern India. He condemned both the Hindus and the Muslims for fighting on account of religion. He says, ‘Hindus call upon Ram and Muslmans on Rahman, yet both fight and kill each other and none knows the truth. Thus, his mission was to preach a religion of love. This word had the most significant meaning in his teachings. He attaches no importance to the learned theologians if they do not know the inherent meaning and significance of Prem(Love). He says, ‘Men mastered books of wisdom but none could become perfect. One who mastered the word of love achieved perfection.’ In the words of Prof. M. Mujeeb, ‘His teachings derive their appeal, which had no doubt been tremendous, from the fact that they challenged and derided practices and prejudices which dam the free flow of the sentiments of charity and love and which are indefensible from the rational and purely human point of view.’
There is a story that Kabir was persecuted by Sultan Sikandar Lodi, being charged with heresy by narrow-minded divines, the court ‘ulema’ (whom he never spares from the most trenchant condemnation). He was bound and thrown before an elephant to be trampled to death, but the furious elephant instead of crushing him to death, lifted his trunk in salutation; then he was thrown into the Ganges with his hands and feet in chains, but instead of his being drowned, he was found comfortably seated upon a deer i skin on the surface of water. It is difficult to accept the story for almost exactly the same story is recorded about Namdev in the Guru Granth, the Holy Book of the Sikhs.’ The fact seems to be that Kabir was charged with heresy and he defended himself by saying that his definite aim was to unite Hindus and Muslims. T know not the ditterence between Hindus, and Muhamadans for in all hearts there is but one master, and Sikandar Lodi impressed by his earnestness rescued him from the hands of the Qazi by sentencing him to a temporary exile.
The personality of Kabir was interesting as well as enigmatic tor the historians and Tazkira writers of contemporary and later times. He greatly offended both the Hindus and the Muslims by his independent teachings and both tried to suppress him by all means at their command. But he went on criticizing both in words, bold and sharp. Both appreciated his teachings and he got a large number of followers from both the communities. But strangely enough all the modern eminent writers have ignored references about Kabir in Mirat-ul-Asrar, Iqtabat-ul Anwar and Ma’arij-ul-Wilayat which throw a flood of light upon the personality of Kabir and the cult which he preached. These have been included in this article for the first time. Curiously enough history has been silent regarding Kabir and with the exception of a passing reference in Ain–Akbari, we do not find any historical account of his life and teachings. Whatever is available, is considered merely legendary However, the Tazkiras (published as well as MSS), have treated the life and works of Kabir in detail and have also brought home the fact that Kabir lived a vigorous life and preached as vigorous philosophy.
Very little is found about Kabir in Persian literature, and contemporary Muslim historians are generally silent about his personally and work. Historians like Nizamuddin Ahmad Bakhshi, Farishta, Niamatullah and Badauni do not say a word about him. But there are brief references in later works such as Ain-i-Akbari, Dabistan-i-Mazahib, Mir’at-ul Asrar, lqtabas-ul-Anwar, Ma’arij-ul-Wilayat, Khazinat-ul-Asfiya and Akhbar-ul-Akhyar.
Abul Fazl in his Ain-i-Akbari calls Kabir a Muawahid (Unitarian) and makes a passing reference to hum in the course of his general description of the Subas of Orissa and Awadh. Describing Puri he quotes a local tradition and says,
some affirm that Kabir, the Muwahhid reposes here and many authentic traditions are related regarding his sayings and doings to this day. He was revered by both Hindus and Muslims for his catholicity of doctrines and spiritual enlightenment. When he died the Brahmans wished to burn his body and Muhamadan to bury it.
He writes again in connection with Awadh
Some says that Ratanpur contains the tomb of Kabir, the asserter of the unity of God. The portals of spiritual discernment were partly opened to him and he discarded the effective doctrines of his own time. Numerous verses in the Hindi Language are still extant containing important theological truths.
Among the later Mughal historians, a detailed account of Kabir is left by Muhsin Fani, the seventeenth century author of Dabistan-i-Mazahib, who devotes to Kabir some pages of his book. He also quotes certain traditions which he must have learnt from Kabirpanthis and bears witness to the lasting glory of Kabir. He calls Kabir a Vairagi (ascetic), respected among the Hindus and one of the famous Unitarians of India. He says, ‘Kabir, a weaver by birth, celebrated among those Hindus who professed their belief in the unity of god, was a Vairagi.’ They say that at the time when he was in search of a spiritual guide, he visited the best of Musalmans and Hindus but did not find what he sought. At last some body directed him to an old man of bright genius, the Brahmin Ramananda. Knowing that Ramananda would not converse with a weaver, Kabir dug a hole on the road frequented by the Brahmin sage. Towards night Ramananda used to go to bathe on the bank of a river. One day he passed along the border of the hole made by Kabir, who coming forth clung to the feet of Ramananda. As the Brahmin harboured in his mind no other thought but that of God, the highest, under the name of Rama, he called out: ‘Rama. When Kabir heard ‘Rama’ from the tongue of Ramanauda, he withdrew his hands from the Brahmin’s feet and ceased not to repeat the word Rama, Rama, so that no other object but that was hovering before his eves, as before those of Ramananda and he discoursed about the unity of God in sublime speeches, such as are heard only from the most learned men. Kabir. having acquired that reputation, people told Ramananda There is a weaver in thus town who wishes to be your disciple, it is to be regretted that you cannot concern yourself with a weaver who is a man of low caste’ Ramananda answered, Call him to me, which was done. When Kabir’s eyes fell upon those of Ramananda, the former exclaimed ‘Rama Rama’, the latter repeated, ‘Rama Rama’ and embraced Kabir to the great astonishment and wonder of the people around, who asked the reason for such a favour. Ramananda replied: ‘Kabir is a Brahmin, because he knows Brahma, that is the Supreme Being.’
Muhsin Fani further tells us, ‘It is said that a group of Brahmin scholars, sitting on the bank of the Ganges were praising the water of this sacred stream which washes away all the sins. In the course of conversation, one of them became thirsty. Kabir who had heard their speeches raised himself from his place and having filed his wooden bowl which he had with him with water from the Ganges carried it to the Brahmins. The water was not accepted, as Kabir was a weaver, a man of low caste. Kabir observed, ‘You have just now declared that the water of the Ganges purifies the soul and the body from all impurity and foulness of evil actions. But if this water is not even able to purity this wooden bowl, it certainly does not deserve your praise.’
We read in the same work,
‘Another day Kabir was watching the wife of a gardener who gathered flowers to offer them to an image of a deity. He said to her, In the leaves of the flowers dwells the soul of vegetation and the idol to whom thou are going to make the offering is lifeless, without consciousness, is in the sleep of inertness and has no soul. The vegetable condition is far superior. Go venerate that which is wise, intelligent and perfect.’
‘It is said that when Kabir left his elemental body, the Muslims assembled in order to give him a burial because they supposed him to have been of the right faith and the Hindus too crowded in order to cremate his body because they thought that he belonged to their religion. At last a fakir stepped in the midst of them and said, ‘Kabir was a holy man independent of both religions, but having, during his life satisfied you, he will also, after death, meet with your approbation.’ On opening the door of his house they did not find Kabir’s body and both parties were astonished and bewildered.
O friend live so that after thy death.
Thy friends may bite their finger (from joyous astonishment)
In Jagernath at the place where they burn the dead is the form of a tomb which they call Kabir’s.
Live so with good and bad that after thy death, the Musalmans may wish to bury and the Hindus to burn thee (according to their rites).
The eighteenth century author of lqtabas-ul-Anwar writes on the authority of Mir’at-ul-Asrar by Abdur-Rehman Chishti of Amethi that,
Shaikh Kabir whom they call Hayak-i-Malamati was one of the disciples of Makhdum Shaikh Bhik who lies buried at the village Mulahari, four kos from Awadh and this Shaikh Bhik was himself one of the chief disciples of Shaikh Jamal Goojar who belonged to the Kubrawiya Firdausiya order of the Sufis. Shaikh Jamal Goojar was himself a disciple of Shaikh Muzaffar Balkhi of Bihar, the learned spiritual disciple and the successor of the celebrated Shaikh Sharafuddin Yahya Maneri.
We are told further that, Kabir had at first been initiated in his spiritual order by Makhdoom Shaikh Taqi, son of Shaikh Ramzan Hayak Suharwardy who lies buried in village Jhoosi near Allahabad. After that Kabir fell into the company of Ramananda Vairagi and practised many ascetic austerities. The conception of the oneness of God (tauhid) became predominant in his mind and his discerning eyes made him very hard towards all externalists, towards whom he showed no conciliatory attitude. He began to make open and brutally frank speeches and the externalists of those who looked only to the exterior of thing and of inward qualities accused him of infidelity. But the knower of the secrets and of esoteric things regarded him as an Unitarian, i.e. as one believing in one true God as devoid completely of hypocrisy. He was a follower of the disorderly sect of Malamatiya (reprehensible) Sufis. But at the end he got the Khirqa of the Firdausiya order from Makhdoom Shaikh Bhik and got solace through the policy of perfect reconciliation. It has been recorded in some books that Kabir was a weaver by caste yet has written a large number of poetical pieces on Divine Unity. They are in Hindvi language. The Muslims considered him as a Muslim, the infidels regarded him as one of them. But he was neither of the two. While he was breathing his last, Muslims asked him if he wished them to bury him after his death, he replied that they might do so if they found him. The infidels asked his permission to burn him and he gave them the same reply. He shut himself in a cell and died. When they opened the door they found a few flowers which were divided in two (heaps) and thus the quarrel ended. But the real fact appears to be that Kabir was buried by the Muslims after his death in village Magghar as will be related later on.
It is said that once Kabir had prepared bread for himself but a dog came and took it up and ran away. Kabir, with boiled butter in his hand, ran after the dog and offered it the butter also. People began to reproach him. But as copper is transmuted by the philosopher’s stone and the perfume of the sandal tree is transferred to other trees near it and the rivulet, on reaching the river becomes merged in it, in the same was Kabir became absorbed in God, the Absolute Truth. His mausoleum in the township of Magghar in Gorakhpur Sarkar (District), has become a place of pilgrimage. May the mercy of God be upon him.
Shaikh Kamal, son of Shaikh Kabir Malamati had been trained up by his father and had entered the fold of Malamatis. He was more audacious than his father, after whose death he went towards the province of Gujarat, where he was well received by Hazarat Shah Mahboob Alam, as a result of which his fame spread. The tomb of Shaikh Kamal lies at Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Ghulam Moinuddin Abdullah Kheshagi, the seventeenth century author of Ma’arij-ul-Wilayat fi Madarij-ul-Hidayat devoted six pages of his book to Kabir. He lays stress on the spiritual aspect of Kabir’s life and teachings and says: ‘A spiritual disciple of Shaikh Taqi. Shaikh Kabir was known and recognized as a great saint and a renowned holy man of his time. He followed the Malamati Sect of the mystic and thus he concealed his mystic character under this garb. He has to his credit a number of songs of a very high order in the Hindvi language which exhibit his elevated spiritual position. If one probes deeper and reads his poetical pieces, one sometimes finds the conception of union and sometimes one experience the tortures of separation in union. The man who has unfolded the realities of mysticism and esoteric knowledge in the Hindvi language is Kabir. His poetical compositions are of several kinds but most of them come under the category of Bishnunpad and Sakhis. If justice is done to his poetry one would find many jewels of subtle andi revealing ideas. There is none who could excel him in this respect. Even Muhaqqiq-i-Hindi (Malik Muhammad Jaisi), has imitated him in his poetical composition and has trodden in his footsteps. So far as his spiritual power is concerned both, Hindus and Muslims have a feeling of reverence and devotion for him and each one of them considers him as one of themselves. But really speaking he has transcended both these faiths. The fact that most of his disciples are Hindus, does in no way diminish his importance, but is a proof of his excellence. Muhaqqiq, while praising him says in Akhrawati that ‘he has been vanquished by a weaver. It means that Shaikh Kabir had outwardly taken up the profession of weaving but inwardly he invariably engaged himself in divine meditation. He again says that the weaver out of pure love spins the thread of unity and by suspending his breath he performs zikr of negation and affirmation or recites the divine name hundred times.’
When the weaver spreads his warp and woof he keeps himself aloof from all worldly temptations. Because the profession of a i weaver is looked down upon by the people he elevates by engaging himself at his looms and adds to his consciousness. Thus he saves himself from falling a victim to hypocrisy and deception. While he repeats the name of God the Almighty he heads for a perfection and spiritual catharsis. By having undergone such tortures and self-sacrifices he attains to spiritual perfection and receives divine benediction and thus he is gifted with divine wisdom. Whosoever dedicates himself to God, be he a weaver, enters into divine union. In the calendar of the weaver there is neither night nor day. He simply works at his looms and remains enraged in zikr by which he drives away the evil. The evil forces do their utmost to lure him away but he would not allow himself to be so swayed. The weaver treads the path of sharia and when he is coursing through his mystic experiences he is not blind to the limitations which the sharia imposes upon him. He puts his step on the ladder of sharia so that he may reach his destination.
In view of the paucity of information about Kabir in Persian literature, it appears to be worth while to consider the short notices found in some books. For example, Ghulam Sarwar Lahori, the author of Khazinat-ul-Asfiya writes: ‘Shaikh Kabir Julaha, may the Almighty sanctify his sepulchre, was a spiritual disciple and successor of Shaikh Taqi. He was among the perfect saints of God and a celebrity of his own age. He kept his saintliness concealed under the garb of a Malamati. He was distinguished among the Unitarians of his time and had a large collection of Hindi poetry of very high order. It provides a positive proof of his elevated position. If an earnest search is made and his poetical pieces are analysed, they will be found to be replete with the conception of union rather than separation. He was among the foremost people who in Hindi language have unfolded the realities of knowledge and of the sciences. His verses are of several varieties but most of them are under the category of Sakhi and Bishnupad.
‘If you look into his verses with the eyes of fairness, you will find gems of subtleties and pearls of truth. He has weighed them on the scale of his tongue in such a way that nothing comparable to it can be found elsewhere. Malik Muhammad Jaisi entitled Muhaqqiq-i-Hindi has imitated him in his own poetical works. What Kabir composed as Sakhis and Bishnupad has been versified by Jaisi in Sorathas and Dohras. Both Hindus and Muslims have perfect faith in his abstruse faculty and both consider him as one of themselves. The Muslims call him Pir Kabir and among Hindus he is known as Bhagat Kabir. He died in 1003 AH .4
The appellation of Muwahhwid had occupied a unique place in the mystic thought of the Sufis and it was assigned to the mystics like Kabir. It will be interesting to estimate the reaction of the Sufi elite of his age to the teachings of Kabir as recorded by Shaikh Abdul Haq Muhaqqiq Dehlavi in Akhbar ul-Akhyar: Once Shaikh Rizqullah Mushtaqi enquired of his father Shaikh Sa’dullah, “Was Kabir, who is a so famous and whose verses everyone recites, a Muslim or a Kafir?’ Shaikh Sardullah replied, ‘He was a Muwahhid’. Shaikh Rizqullah further asked, ‘Is a Muwahhid different form a Kafir or a Muslim?’ Shaikh Sa’dullah replied, ‘It is a secret difficult to comprehend. You will gradually learn it.’
Kabir should be remembered as the founder of a new line of religious thought rather than a new creed or sect. He was a practical religious teacher and a radical thinker and was undoubtedly a critic of the weaknesses around him. He brought a vigorous message for the individual and the society. Perhaps, he never thought of founding a new religion, for the Kabirpanthi sect came into existence long after his death and was the result of the efforts of his followers. He never claimed to be a prophet or messenger of God. He had no sacred book or scripture to give to the people. What he wanted to give was a new character to the movement of Bhakti by accepting what he considered the best and by rejecting what he deemed to be objectionable elements in the existing system of religion and society. He pitted himself against all kinds of formalities, conventions and ceremonies. He was a critic of what he considered to be superstitious, sham and counterfeit in religion and was bitterly opposed to untouchability and caste exclusiveness. He rose above the divisions that separated men and sought to make them realize that they were all one family. Fe gazed into the mysteries of life and dreamt of a future purified of insincerities untruths, ugliness and inequalities and unhesitatingly brushed aside the whole paraphernalia of dogma and authority. He was sick of story spectacles of quarrels of creeds and worship of empty shells of formal religion.
There is no doubt that Kabir spent considerable time in the company of the Sufis—a fact which is corroborated by his teachings which are so much akin to the then prevailing Sufi anti ritualism. His writings also are frequently of a mystical character. According to Khazinat-ul-Asfiya, Kabir was a spiritual disciple and successor of Shaikh Taqi from whom he is said to have sought a blessing for an endeavour to remove the differences which separated Hindus and Muslims and it was he who gave Kabir spiritual power to efface the religious divergence between Hindus and Muslims and to weld them into one. He is also said to have come in contact with other Sufis in Jaunpur and Manikpur. But the relation of Shaikh Taqi with Kabir is very obscure. In some legends he appears as the preceptor of Kabir while others make him the spiritual preceptor of Sikandar Lodi and a persecutor of Kabir.
All the sources agree that Kabir was a disciple of Ramananda but he greatly disliked formal or institutional ritual towards which Ramananda was inclined. His hymns reflect his contempt for caste, religious ritual, pilgrimage and the general hypocrisy of the priesthood. Devoted to the promotion and advancement of human goodwill and happy relations, Kabir refused to recognize the man made distinction of caste and class, of high and low and of rich andi poor. He was not a mere visionary idealist or a speculative theorist. He was a practical man, one with the men of this world. He spoke to the people in the language of the people and explained his ideas to them with examples drawn from everyday common life which appealed to the basic intelligence of the common man.
There are many other things which may be said to indicate the distinctive position occupied by Kabir. His denunciation of all that he disliked in religion and society, both of Hindus andi Muslims, was frank and forceful. But his teachings were purely oral and throughout northern India thousands of rhyming couplets are current which are ascribed to him. In addition, he and his successors are responsible for a large number of hymns odes and doctrinal and argumentative poems. His teachings, in their essence, are an instance of revolt of simple minds against the deadening weight of ritual, mystery, confusing involution of thought with which Brahminism and Islam were overlaid. But as what he sang and said proceeded from the core of his heart and from the vehemence of his feelings, his sincere and genuine beliefs and poetic talents went direct to the hearts of his hearers. He has been given a distinct place in Hindi Literature. But he never himself wrote down a single line of prose or poetry. He never attempted writing for its own sake. His heart was bubbling with ideas which had a message of reform, conciliation and integration and he delivered it to those who came round him. He was a lover of equality, liberty and fraternity in his own way and had hatred for everything that was external and formal. Fe was conscious of the dignity of labour. He worked as a householder and as ai professional weaver, singing as he sat at his looms and condemning wealth and luxury. He regarded wealth as a stumbling block is the way of social progress and spiritual salvation. He was a teacher of humanity and was full of love and kindness for all. He was a great moralist, great mystic, and a talented but unlettered poet of nature of a high order. Considering all his qualities, his courage and fearlessness, his pure and ennobling doctrines, expressed, through simple, homely, intelligible but effective verses, we may call Kabir to be the most perfect representative of the reform movement of the fifteenth century.
Many stories are told about his birth, parentage, life and death and many legends have gathered round him which make him a mythical figure. But so little of a real and positive nature is known about this remarkable personality that some have gone so far to doubt his existence. What can be said with some amount of certainty is that he was born at Benares in the later half of the fifteenth century, and he did much to elevate the social and moral level of the society of his time. He died in 1518, at Magghar near (Gorakhpur Malik Mohammad Jaisi refers to him without mentioning his name and says ‘I was Vanquished by a weaver.’ There is a controversy about his real religious persuasion. Some regard him as a Muslim, while others take him to be essentiality a Hindu at heart. But he himselt says, It vou say I am a Hindu it is not true, nor am I Musalman; I am a body made of five elements where the unknown (Ghaibi) plays. The fact is that he did not give preference to Hinduism or Islam. He admires the good point and condemns the dogmatism of both the religions. The ulema and the Brahmins are equal in his eyes. In his opinion different appellations of God are expressions of one and the same truth. He finds no difference between a Hindu and a Muslim. According to him earthen vessels have different name although they are made from the same day (Sabd. 30).
He saw the ways of both but showed no favour while denouncing religious dogmas and superstitions of both. He criticizes both in equally severe words. He turned the attention of both to a universal path, a road which both could tread together. He said, “The Hindu resorts to temple and the Muslim to mosque but Kabir goes to the place where both are known’. Thus he showed freedom from any kind of bias. He asks both to give up exclusiveness, to have reverence tor all living creatures, to abstain from bloodshed, and to give up pride of birth and parentage, extremes of asceticism and worldliness and to consider life as a dedication.
Kabir has rightly been called the Indian Luther of the fifteenth century. Of all the great reformers of that age he exercises the greatest influence over the Hindus and Muslims of the upper Gangetic Plains. His was the first attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam and he was the first to come forward boldly to proclaim a religion acceptable to both the Hindus and the Muslims. He preached for a middle path and his cry was taken up all over India and re-echoed from a hundred places. The number of his followers is not so important as is his indirect influence which extended over the Punjab, Gujarat and Bengal and which continued to spread under the Mughal rule. He endeavoured to bridge the gulf between the Hindus and Muslims for the first time and rendered a great service to the cause of unity and synthesis of the two religions which he could not accomplish in his days. For this tremendous task a mighty man of genius was needed. Later a wise sovereign correctly estimating its value attempted to make it a religion approved by the state. Akbar’s Din-i-llahi was not an isolated freak of an autocrat but an inevitable result of the forces which were deeper surging in India’s breast and had found expression in the teachings of a man like Kabir. History thwarted that attempt but i destiny still points towards the same goal.
The beliefs of a lover of liberty and freedom of conscience and of one who was renowned as a stern moralist of his time, cannot be brought under or confined within a single creed. It is doubtful, as we have seen, if Kabir accepted all that Ramanada taught him because he was a restless soul, sensitive to the environment, questioning the validity of what was taken for granted and seeking light and guidance from wherever he thought he could find it. As we have seen, chroniclers are all praise for him and it appears certain that from his very childhood he showed a very reflective disposition and a contemplative mind. With the passage of time his mystic moods and utterances became more and more frequent. He never renounced the world and never adopted asceticism. He was a family man and a householder. Re continued, till the end of his life, to earn his living by working at his looms. He was i never in affluent circumstances and perhaps did not want to be. He never strove to shake off his poverty. His earlier contacts with Ramananda as well as with Sufis, Bhaktas and Gyanis were useful because he could see the conflict between Hinduism and Islam. But this did not create any blind loyalties in him because he did not believe in forms or rituals if they did not add to a man’s spiritual or moral stature. His criticism of the blind and meaningless pursuit of ritual and external requirements in Islam was uncompromising and incisive but nowhere does he question its fundamentals He condemned the caste systems with its concomitants of untouchability and restrictions against inter-dining. He compared Islam and Hinduism to two boughs of a tree; his own ideas he compared to the trunk which stands in-between them.
Kabir did not express his views merely because he had such strong feelings about them. He had a positive mission and the chief aim of his teachings was to find an acceptable means of reconciling the different castes and religious communities of northern India to one another, by making spiritual values more popular and by uniting people on a spiritual plane. He did not want to achieve this end through the annihilation of any religion for the establishment of a new one, his method was simply to clear the real purpose of religious life which in his opinion was only spiritual uplift. He was against confining truth within the barrier of race or community and wanted to put an end to antagonism of religions based on blind superstition or on the selfish interests of a minority exploiting the ignorance of the masses. He desired to establish social and religious peace among the people who lived together but who were separated from one another by religion.
Kabir occupies a unique place in the social history of India. Through him was articulated, most forcefully and with great effect, the belief that Hinduism and Islam could unite in a fervent belief in God and that the division on the bias of community, ritual or religion was not important. The torch lit by Kabir ignited in course of time a wild fire, which was carried through the zeal of sincere seekers of spiritual ecstasy, to all corners of the subcontinent.” His son Kamal was one of his many sincere disciples who was trained by his father and was more outspoken than Kabir.
We have great respect for the remarkable personality of Kabir for he was a true Indian saint and a great Indian poet. In his thoughts and beliefs he was an Indian out and out. Moreover he had an ennobling mission of uniting Hindu and Muslims, which alas, remains unfulfilled even after a lapse of so many centuries.
Article Credit – “Sufism and Indian Mysticism” edited by Akhtarul Wasey and Farhat Ehsas.