Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Art & Culture)
Kabir is a man far ahead of his times and his teachings made a fundamental departure from the prevailing Bhakti tradition. Elucidate. Comment on the relevance of Kabir’s ideas for current times. (15M)
Sant Kabir is considered to be one of the greatest poets as well as mystics ever born in India.it has been 500 years Since he left the world , but his teachings and thoughts are relevant in current times also. Some of his teachings like all human beings are equal and there is no societal caste system, faith in the concept of oneness of God. And belief in Impersonal Aspect of God (Nirguna), shows how Sant Kabir’s thoughts were ahead of his times.
As a poet, Kabir transcended many of the divisions that existed in India. Although he was drawn deeply into spiritual life, he openly criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy, with his straight forward approach on various aspects of human existence. It is for this reason that Kabir is held in high esteem all over the world.
Prevailing Bhakti tradition before Kabir:
- The early bhakti tradition evolved and was characterised by remarkable diversity. It accommodated and acknowledged women and the “lower castes”, who were considered ineligible within orthodox Brahmanical framework, while Brahmanas remained important intermediaries between gods and devotees in several forms of bhakti.
- Historians of religion often classify bhakti traditions into two broad categories: saguna (with attributes) and nirguna (without attributes).
- Alvars:Some of the earliest bhakti movements (sixth century) were led by the Alvars (literally, those who are “immersed” in devotion to Vishnu) and Nayanars (literally, leaders who were devotees of Shiva). They travelled from place to place singing hymns in Tamil in praise of their gods.
- In twelfth century, there emerged a new movement in Karnataka, led by a Brahmana named Basavanna (1106-68) His followers were known as Virashaivas (heroes of Shiva) or Lingayats (wearers of the linga).
- From the seventh century, with the advent of Islam, the north-western regions became part of what is often termed the Islamic world.
Unique teachings of Kabir different from the prevailing Bhakti tradition.
He was the most popular of all the Bhakti saints. He made efforts to foster a spirit of harmony between Hinduism and Islam, Kabir was influenced by prevailing religious mood such as old Brahmanic Hinduism, Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, teachings of Nath yogis and the personal devotionalism from South India mixed with imageless God of Islam.
- From Hinduism he accepts the concept of reincarnation and the law of Karma. From Islam he takes the outer practices of Indian Sufi ascetics and Sufi mysticism.
- His teachings were in sync with the principles of bhakti movement where more focus was on equality of castes, preached the path of devotion and discarded all rituals , chose the path of love and devotion etc.
- He laid stress ‘Bhakti’. He said that through Bhakti or devotion one would come nearer to God; one could be released from the cycle of birth and death only by sincere love and devotion to God, which he called Bhakti.
- He made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims. He sincerely tried to emphasise the unity of Islam and Hinduism by preaching those virtues which were common to both religions.
- According to Kabir Allah and Rama were but different names of the same supreme being. To him Hindus and Muslims were “pots of the same clay”.
- Salvation: According to Kabir salvation could be attained by doing good deeds or by means of Bhakti or sincere devotion to God.
How Kabir is a man far ahead of his times.
- Against Idol Worship:
He did not believe in idol worship. He was also against the performance of rituals and superstitions or pilgrimage to the so called holy places.
- Against the Caste System:
Kabir denounced the caste system. He said that there should be no discrimination on the basis of caste. He rejected the authority of both the Veda and the Koran. He laid great emphasis on the equality of a men. He preached a religion of love which aimed at promoting unity amongst all castes and creeds.
- Kabir condemned pride and selfishness. He preached man to give up pride, anger, enmity and ego. He appreciated brotherhood, which ultimately directed towards reaching the main objectives : “Love of God” and “Love of humanity”.
God was the focal point of Kabir’s religion and Kabir addressed him in different names. In his opinion God alone was Ram, Rahim, Govind, Allah, Khuda, Hari etc. But for Kabir, ‘Saheb’ was his favourite name. He said god was everywhere and His domain is unlimited. God was pure, sacred, existing, without form, light, endless and inseparable. Hence God was all powerful and he could only be worshipped through love and devotion. In whatever name one addresses Him, God is one and has no second. Hence Kabir preached Monotheism.
In Kabir’s dictum the Teacher or ‘Guru’ has been accorded the prime position. The teacher according to him was the incarnation of God. He said that true guru is the one who can be attained through direct experience. The common ways of realizing God, like chanting, austerities, etc, are worthless.
- Impermanence of the world:
Kabir asserted the impermanence of all things in the world. All living and non living things like insects, animals, trees, rivers, mountains and human beings are only temporary and all would cease to exist some day. He advised his followers not to lament the death of something which was bound to die. Hence he emphasized that in this impermanent world, the only truth and permanent reality was God, who could be attained thought Bhakti.
Relevance of Kabir ideas to Current times.
Today’s world is bogged down by the excessive materialism of the world. The deep seated economic inequalities of the world are leading to a simmering discontent across the world. Kabir’s principles of compassionate ethics are relevant
- Practice of hypocrisy:
Kabir was strictly against the practice of hypocrisy and didn’t like people maintaining double standards. He always preached people to be compassionate towards other living beings and practice true love. Which is somewhat missing in present days.
He urged the need to have company of good people that adhere to values and principles. He emphasized that love was the only medium which could bind the entire humankind in an unbreakable bond of fraternity He advised all to give up hatred and perpetuate love for one and all.
- Honest livelihood:
Corruption is the deep seated problem in India which is eating away the vitals of the nation inside out the emphasis on honest livelihood by Kabir if understood in the right spirit will provide a way of changing the individual perspective.
It is a lurking evil in the Indian societal context the essential syncretism and universalism which are part of Kabir teachings, can help in solving this issue to a certain extent.
As teachings of Kabir say, “Hari does not exist in the east and nor Allah in the west.” They are one and reside inside the human heart. In the current scenario of our society if everyone seek truth within their own hearts the problem of communalism and corruption can be overcome. As per Kabir’s teachings if everyone gives up pride, selfishness, anger, enmity and ego, a better society with brotherhood, which ultimately direct towards reaching the main objectives: “Love of God” and “Love of humanity” can be restored in present times.
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