Kabir (also Kabira) (Hindi: कबीर, Punjabi: ਕਬੀਰ, Urdu: کبير) was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement. The name Kabir comes from Arabic al-Kabīr which means 'The Great' - the 37th name of God in Islam.
Apart from having an important influence on Sikhism, Kabir's legacy is today carried forward by the Kabir Panth ("Path of Kabir"), a religious community that recognizes him as its founder and is one of the Sant Mat sects. Its members, known as Kabir panthis, are estimated to be around 9,600,000. They are spread over north and central India, as well as dispersed with the Indian diaspora across the world, up from 843,171 in the 1901 census. His writings include Bijak, Sakhi Granth, Kabir Granthawali and Anurag Sagar.
Early Life and Background
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. 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".
Legend says that he reliquished his body when he was about 120 years old. There is a famous legend about his death; 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 thier half. In Maghar, his tomb and samadhi still stand side by side.
The social and practical manifestation of Kabir's philosophy has rung through the ages. It represented a synthesis of Hindu, and Muslim concepts. From Hinduism he accepts the concept of reincarnation and the law of Karma. From Islam he takes the affirmation of the single god and the rejection of caste system and idolatry. The basic religious principles he espouses are simple. 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 is a very important figure in Indian history. He is unusual in that he is spiritually significant to Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims alike. Kabir openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy. Kabir touches the soul, the conscience, the sense of awareness and the vitality of existence in a manner that is unequalled in both simplicity and style.
It is for this reason that Kabir is held in high esteem all over the world. 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.
Kabir has written much poetry and song. All of Kabir's recorded verses are in Hindi. His lyrics are characterised by a free use of the vernacular, and is unfettered by the grammatical bonds of his day. It is this quality which has made his philosophy accessible to generations of Indians.