Written by Chaitra Sontakke on 17 June 2019
“Guru Govind dou khade, kaake laagun paye
Balihaari Guru aapne, Govind diyo bataye”
Guru and Govind both are before me - to whom do I pay homage first? I’ll bow to my Guru who showed me the way to Lord Govind.
This beautiful couplet was written by the 15th-century mystic poet Sant “saint” Kabir. Kabir’s writings have been a great source of inspiration to people hailing from different faiths - Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. His poetry, through these simple but beautiful couplets, continue to have an impact in the 21st century.
“Pothi padhi padi jag mua, pandit bhaya na koi
Dhai akhar prem ka padhe so pandit hoi”
The one who understands the power of love has achieved wisdom, and wisdom may not be measured by the books one reads.
Kabir was born in Bhadoi and lived in Varanasi. He became the disciple of Swami Ramanand who taught the Advaita philosophy. The Advaita (non-duality) doctrine identifies that the Divine is one with the soul and each individual needs to manifest the Divine in oneself. Kabir features as one of the champions of Bhakti movement. He embraced the Nirgun philosophy (of a God or Supreme power without attributes) of Bhakti. Kabir’s Ram is the one beyond form and any attributes. His songs are sung by folk and Bhajan singers of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan. It is believed that Kabir was unlettered, his songs have been preserved primarily by oral traditions and later by manuscripts and books.
“Mala pherat jug bhaya, phira na man ka pher
Kar ka manka daar de, man ka manka pher”
Mindless rituals do not change minds, leave aside the maala (rosary) in your hands and turn inwards towards the heart within.
Kabir led a simple life and was a weaver by profession. He wrote couplets and songs out of spoken, vernacular language in dialects Avadhi, Braj, and Bhojpuri - simple and approachable - just like his philosophies. He believed in and preached the oneness of God which is apparent in his bhajans like “Koi Bole Ram Ram, Koi Khudaaye.
Koi Sevai Gusaiyan, Koi Allahe.”
Kabir’s poetry is exceptionally beautiful, deep, direct and candid. The teachings behind his words are conveyed quietly but impactfully, without losing their sweetness or freshness. Over the ages, the followers of Kabir and the lovers of his enchanting poetry have memorised, pondered and performed his couplets to seek spiritual awakening. He shared his knowledge with all - regardless of the faith or caste of his listeners and followers.
One of Kabir’s greatest works - “Bijak” - is a huge collection of poems reflecting Kabir’s general view of spirituality. His numerous dohas (couplets) and poetry have been adapted to Bhajans and songs over the ages.
Sant Kabir’s songs are sung by classical musicians, mostly in the traditional Bhajan shailee (form). It was Pt. Kumar Gandharva who sang and popularised the Nirguni Bhajans in his unique style, which had folk influences from Malwa.
Pandit Omkarnath Thakur’s interpretation of the Nirguni Bhajans is more influenced by his Hindustani classical background. The Gundecha brothers breathed new life into Kabir’s poetry by singing it in Dhrupad style.
Prahlad Tipanya follows the folk tradition of Madhya Pradesh and weaves Kabir’s poetry into storytelling. The Manganiars of Rajasthan and singers from Punjab also sing Kabir’s poetry and song and bring in the rhythm and folk melody from their provinces.
Kabir’s message of equality and uplifting humanity lives on through these simple and powerful words. He is indeed one of the greatest poet-philosophers who reached the learned and the simple, the rich and the poor alike and continues to be part of India’s cultural kaleidoscope.
“Sooraj marihe chanda marihe
Choudah bhuvan ke choudhuri marihe
Peer marihe, paigambar marihe, marihe zinda jogi
Naam anaam anant rahat hai, dooja tatva na koi”
The Sun and the Moon shall perish, the stars and constellations fade away, the prophet and the priest, they all pass away, nothing lasts but the eternal truth!