Kabirís Poetry - A Road to Universal Brotherhood
Dr. Arti Kumari, M. A., M. Ed, Phd. (English)
Higher Secondary Teacher, Govt. High School, Bramhpura, Muzaffarpur (Bihar) - India
Ph. 8084505505, email: artikumari707@gmail.com

Pothi Padhi padhi jag mua,
pandit bhaya na koi
Dhai akshar prem ka,
Padhe so pandit hoi.

Simple and plain words written by a person who was not schooled or tutored but whatever he uttered or spoke; they turned out to be an unceasing voice of the world. He is Kabir whose personality is an amalgamation of so many virtues. His uttering has been coming down to us and making our barren land fertile with wisdom. He appeared on the screen just like a great saint who with his preaching showed us the way piercing the pitch darkness of ignorance in which he found the men groping. Kabir was really a great thinker, a profound philosopher, a good preceptor, a great teacher, a radical reformer and what not. Kabir himself declares:

I don't touch ink or paper
this hand never grasped a pen.
The greatness of four ages
Kabir tells with his mouth alone.

But whatever he communicated it can't be told by an erudite or a common man who is easily caught up in the mesh of worldly problems, bounded by urgency of pressing needs and troubled by convention.

Kabir was born at a time when there was instability in both political and religious spheres of the country and religion was the greatest tool at the hands of the hypocrites. The religion and belief of the people of the country were splintered into several sects and cults, such as, Buddhism, Jainism, Sufism, Nath sect, Adwait of Shankar and Vishishtadwait of Ramanuj. Societies were splitting into segments due to the caste status and creeds galvanized by Brahmanism. The people of the privileged castes and Shudras were falling apart, as both harboured prejudice against each other. When Kabir observed this great deal of fraud and falsehood practiced in the name of religion, he spoke the truth, which needed much courage.

Kabir did not set down anything in writing; he only sang and gave utterances to his insight and prophetic vision, which became household maxims for the generations to come. If poetry could reach the height of a spell, it was here. He poured his soul in pithy aphoristic dohas, each quintessence of his life-experience. His bhajans are so soothing, pleasing and tunable that they work upon our mind and body. It injects a new spirit into our veins and we feel rejuvenated.

Even Gandhiji appears brought under the profound impact of Kabir. He mentioned that he felt delighted listening Kabir's bhajan "Jhini Jhini bini chadariya" and included this poem in his daily prayer.

Kabir was a firm advocate of Truth and Non-violence. He says, "No act of devotion can equal truth; No crime is so heinous as falsehood; in the heart where truth abides, there is God's abode".

Westcott held him as a Mohammadan Sanit, P.C. Verma called him a Saviour of Hinduism from Islam. Recent writers have presented him as a social revolutionary comparable to Gandhi. William J. Dwyer sees him as a Bhakt, but he was a saint poet and to think of the good of others and to galvanize the mass with his poetic utterances was the mission of his life. He worked for betterment to others at the cost of his own comforts. He says-

"O Kabir, no matter if you are deceived but do not deceive others.
If you do so it will bring hell to you."

He lays emphasis on the purifications of mind rather than the purification of body.

Nahay dhoa kya bhaya,
Jo man mail door na Jaye
Meen sada jal main rahe,
Dhoa baas na Jaye

The essence of Kabir's effort as a teacher may be stated plainly; he wants to make people honest. He says, "What is the use of all these ceremonial and rituals when men harbour dacoit within and practice fraud under the name of holiness." If Kabir insisted on anything, it was on the penetration of everything inessential, every layer of dishonesty and delusion. He believes that complete honesty provides a realization of complete truth--understanding of the nature of consciousness, the relation of individual and universe, inside and outside, life and death. The individual must find the truth in his own body and mind, so simple, so direct, that the line between 'him' and 'it' disappears. There seems to be a God at the heart of his enlightenment. One of the formulaic phrases in Kabir's verses is "Ghat Ghat me", in every body, in every vessel the truth is close--closer than close. All that he suggests to us is to experience or realize that entity in our within.

"Search thy heart within the inner core"
Ram and Rahman live there.

Kabir may also legitimately be called a crusader in as much as he raised his voice against everything that was meaningless. It is a social and ethical reformer that Kabir claims the attention of modern radical in as much as he like the Budha denounced the folly of social inequality and the injustice perpetrated in the name of caste. Kabir shares a rare kind of catholicity and humanism with Marathi poet Namdev, Punjabi Poet Nanak, Telegu poet Vemana, Kannada poet Basaveshwar and Gujrati poet Akho which broke all conventions of caste, creed or cult. He openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy. Kabir is being re-evaluated as the first rebel poet and the earliest modernist in Hindi criticism (Purbi Times, Kabir special Number, June 1966, articles by Yashpal, Sampurnanad, Amritlal Nagar, Ali Sardar Jafri ,Firaq Gorakhpuri and others). One young critic, Thakur Prasad Singh, has in all seriousness gone to the extent of calling Kabir the grandfather of Beat poetry in Hindi.

The impression left after reading Kabir is that of a person who is transformed or touched to the core. This is due to his straightforward approach that he is held in high esteem all over the world and to call Kabir a universal Guru in not an exaggeration.

Kabir ridiculed the orthodoxy of both Hindus and Muslims and challenged them like any later scientific rationalist, to justify their Sham and hypocrisy.

It was here that Kabir was at war with his social situation;

"Muslim, he says, observe fast during day
And kill cows at night.
They shed blood and then pray to God.
How can they please God?"
He does not spare even the Hindus;

"Hindus appreciate themselves but do not allow other (people of low caste) to touch their pots. But lo! they sleep under Harlot's feet."

He appears a stern realist like G.B. Shaw, an iconoclastic reformer, an innovator of new ideas. Fiercely independent, Kabir has become an icon of speaking truth to power. In a blunt and uncompromising style, he exhorted his listener to say their delusion, pretensions, orthodoxies and naive belief in favour of direct experience of Truth. He satirized hypocrisy, greed and violence-especially among the religions. Belonging to a social group widely considered low and unclean, he criticized caste ideology and declared the equality of all human beings. "Neither the Brahman is high- caste, nor is the Shudra low. Why hate one another? Hatred is folly".

He preached simplicity and contentment and believed that everyone should do physical labour and stick to his own profession; no one should steal another person's property. He did not spare even royal greed and political aggrandizement and asks the question;
'Gathering forces and besieging castles sowing off his prowess-is this the only job of a Badshah (monarch)? When the emperor dies, what remains of this game?'

He spoke out his mind fearlessly and never made it his object merely to please his hearers. Sometimes he was extremely bitter and in being so he is not unjustified because poetry is nothing if it is not an unafraid utterance or an unlatched articulation. It makes a different norm of truth, a different decree of intimacy and different order of appeal. It is these verses of Kabir which communicate dissonance and prepare ground for artistic maturity in his poetry through universal appeal. He formulated a general principle to put an end to all formal precept and inspired people to live in love with each other without making discrimination between man and woman. The central theme of his teaching, therefore, is the power of love.

In his opinion true religion teaches love and harmony. In the presence of this all pervading love, all differences between high and low, rich and poor, Hindus and Muslims, Turks and Christians vanish. Kabir felt in trying to establish universal religion which could be in tune with the needs of the age and could also be able to keep itself intact against the vicious currents of different religions.

Kabir speaks to us in a direct and uninhibited tone that invariably shakes us out of our slumber like existence. The instructions are simple yet deep, obvious yet multi-layered, challenging yet caring, powerful yet empowering irreverent, yet deeply devotional. Indeed, Kabir lived what he preached, or more accurately preached what he lived.

Kabir's voice is a simple manifestation of his experience. Kabir despite being in the world was above worldly desires and longings and this was the kind of eternal massage he gave to human kind through his powerful and nectarous voice. As a matter of fact, Kabir celebrates a genuine insider rather than a studious outsider. These lines show a lyrical charm and go deeper into our mind, make us aware of the real meaning of Knowledge. But to attain the real knowledge Kabir emphasises on the importance of Guru. Kabir doesn't consider that Guru is the man who teaches in the classroom but Guru is one who guides us through encircling gloom and provides self- knowledge which ultimately leads us to the path of salvation. He expresses his gratitude to Satguru and speaks;

Guru Ko Keijai Dandavat,
Koti-Koti Parnaam
Keet Na Jaane Bhringa Ko,
Guru Kar Le Aap Samaan.

David Courtney, Ph.D. has expressed that Kabir is a very important figure in Indian history. He is unusual in that he is spiritually significant to Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims alike. 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 the caste system and idolatry. Not only has Kabir influenced Muslims and Hindus but he is one of the major inspirations behind Sikhism as well. The basic religious principles he espouses are simple.

It is by the spontaneous expressions of Kabir's vision and his love, and not by the didactic teachings associated with his name, that he makes his immortal appeal to the heart. In his poems we find a wide range of mystical emotion brought into play- from the loftiest abstractions, the most otherworldly passion for the infinite to the most intimate and personal realisation of God expressed in homely metaphors and religious symbols that is drawn indifferently from Hindu and Mohammedan belief. The words in the praise of God and the feelings that came out of Kabir's tongue are not the feelings of one person named Kabir only and not that it came for the first time through Kabir but this remained the feelings of devotees at all the times in past and I believe that this will remain the feelings of devotees in future too.

Kabir, in his age, was much worried on the degradation of human values and through his words led emphasis on Love, Devotion, Caution, Selfishness, Salvation, Deeds, Truth, Karma etc and tried to lift the moral of the people. Kabir was really such a saint who worked as a torch bearer and tried to pull the people out from the darkness. Kabir had such transcendental and pious eyes that he could not find a person whom he could call bad, as he himself says,

'Bura jo Dekhan main chalaa,
Bura na miliya koye
Jo dil khoja aapna,
Mujh sa bura na hoye

Kabir was not attributed any Title by the then rulers; no glory was thrusted upon his head but he was born great and he achieved greatness by his rare virtues. The greatest quality of Kabir's personality was his originality and he was a man of independent outlook. According to Dr. H.P. Dwivedi, he was a fakkar steadfast, humble before a devotee, horrible for a hop, pure at heart, psychologically sane, soft from within, rough in appearance, untouchable by birth and revered by action.

We sincerely feel that Kabir is alive even today. The universality of Kabir, like Shakespeare is a truth in itself. He is not made up of mass, he is an undying fragrance, ever pleasing, soothing, vibrating, and stealing secretly into one's heart. He is relevant even today because he spoke against hypocrites coaxed the fine of equality, brotherhood and non-violence. The very texture of human sensibility was stirred up by the hymns of Kabir. He tries to put his finger on the basic yearnings of man, the eternal quest for internal peace, the 'angst' of a person functioning in a 'maladjusted society.' Where religions turn into hide-bound ritualistic codes, where philosophies turn into mere verbal jugglery and linguistic labyrinths, where there is a crisis of conscience and the leadership is lame,

Kabir's poetry serves as a great inspiration. At times, he seems to shock us by ripping open the Shams and exposing the double-talk and double-think of the so called respectable learned, yet there is no note of despair. He has always hoped beyond. No doubt the springs of this hope are spiritual and it may be argued that today in an age of 'no values', all that sounds unreal. But Kabir has much left in his poetry, even when one does not agree with his theism and so to enjoy Kaibr, one need not be a Kabir-panthi. Here lies the secret of his ever continuing greatness as a poet: he transcends time and place.


1. Das, Shyamsundar, ed, Kabir granthawali. Varanasi: Naggri Pracharini Sabha, 1928
2. Dwivedi Hazari Prasad, Kabir 2nd enlarged edition, Hindi Grantha, Ratnakar, Bombay 1960
3. Keay, F.E., Kabir and his Followers: Oxford University Press, Calcutta, 1931.
4. Westcott, G.H. Kabir and Kabirpanth, Reprint ed. Delhi, Bhartiya Publishing House, 1974
5. Introduction and translation from Hindi and notes by Vaudeville Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1974
6. Sarnam Singh Sharma, Kabir: Vyaktitma Krititwa Abam Sidhant, Champalal Ranka and Co. Jaipur, p-37
7. Kabir Granthawali, Dr. Bhagwat Swarup Mishra,
8. Kabir granthavali, Dr.Parasnath Tiwari,
© Author

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2013)