Kabir Das (1398 – 1518) (kabir, Arabic for “great”, dasa, Sanskrit for “slave” or “servant”) was born in the year 1398AD, 71 years before Guru Nanak. He is one of the medieval Indian saints of the Bhakti and Sufi movement whose compositions figure in Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. From among all of them, Kabir’s contribution is the largest. Kabir lived in the fifteenth century after Christ, which was a time of great political upheaval in India. As is true of many contemporary religious teachers, very little reliable information concerning Kabir’s life is available, though there is no dearth of legend around him. Kabir’s life was centered around Kashi, also called Banaras (Varanasi). Kabir through his couplets not only reformed the mindset of common villagers and low caste people but gave them self-confidence to question Brahmins.
Kabir believed in self-surrender and God’s bhakti. He suggests inward worship and remembrance of God. For him, true worship is only inwards. According to Kabir, all life is an interplay of two spiritual principles. One is the personal soul (Jivatma) and the other is God (Paramatma). It is Kabir’s view that salvation is the process of bringing into union these two divine principles.
Kabir composed no systematic treatise, rather his work consists of many short didactic poems, often expressed in terse vigorous language in the form of Padas, Dohas, and Ramainis (forms of poetry in Indian language very famous in India and are commonly used in day to day life to give examples). Kabir has written much poetry and song. All of Kabir’s recorded verses are in Hindi language and mixing some bits from various dialects including Avadhi, Braj and Bhojpuri. His lyrics are characterized by a free use of the vernacular, and is unfettered by the grammatical bonds of his day. Another beauty of Kabir’s poetry is that he picks up situations that surround our daily lives. Thus, even today, Kabir’s poetry is relevant and helpful in both social and spiritual context. Following Kabir means understanding one’s inner self, realizing oneself, accepting oneself as is, and becoming harmonious with one’s surroundings. It is this quality which has made his philosophy accessible to generations of Indians.
Many legends abound about the birth, life and death of Kabir, one of India’s most quoted poets and mystics. His birth itself is shrouded in mystery, some say he was the son of a Brahman widow, others that he was of virgin birth, what is known though is that he was brought up in a family of muslim weavers. Legend has it that he was actually the son of a Brahmin widow who abandoned him and that he was found by a Muslim weaver named Niru, who adopted the boy and taught him the weaver’s trade.
He was never formally educated and was almost completely illiterate. According to legend, the only word that he ever learned how to write was “Rama”.
When he died, his Hindu and Muslim followers started fighting about the last rites. When they lifted the cloth covering his body, they found flowers instead. The Muslim followers buried their half and the Hindu cremated their half. In Maghar, his tomb and samadhi still stand side by side.
Kabir openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy. This is due to his straight forward approach that has a universal appeal. It is for this reason that Kabir is held in high esteem all over the world. To call Kabir a universal Guru is not an over exaggeration. To me personally, the very name Kabir means Guru’s Grace.