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A painting of Kabir

The Kabir Panth ("Path of Kabir") is a religious community of India that recognizes the fifteenth-century devotional poet Kabir as its founder. It comprises people of both Hindu and Muslim ancestry (although overwhelming majorty are Hindu[1]) and the ritual life of the community displays its dual origins. It is difficult to estimate the actual number of Kabir panthis in India, since religious affiliations tend to overlap but estimates of 9,600,000 are given.[2] Found in all the provinces of Upper and Central India, notably Uttar Pradesh, the Kabir panth also has followers throughout the Indian diaspora, particularly in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Mauritius.

Contents

Kabir

Kabir was born in 1398, lived as a weaver and died in 1518. According to some he was initiated by Ramanand Swami, a famous Hindu Guru and community leader at that time. Using very poignant language, Kabir criticized caste ideology and declared the equality of all human beings. He employed a Socratic method of teaching, pleading with all human beings regardless of their gender, status, caste, color, race, religion or occupation to think critically about their lives and pursuits and the salvation of their soul. He "spoke Truth to power", confronting the most vicious of the Moghul rulers as well as the Hindu Kings and sages of the time and was fearless and relentless in his pursuit of the salvation of humanity at large.

Kabir was an oral poet whose works were written down by others. His lyrics have flourished for more than 500 years, producing music, folk and classical, in countless local dialects and regional styles. Thousands of poems are popularly attributed to Kabir, but only a few written collections have survived over the centuries. Although Kabir's teachings are anti-sectarian and esoteric, over time the teachings have been developed into various rituals.

Practices and beliefs

Shatshat.JPG

Kabir Panthis can follow the ethical and social customs of the day according to tradition without hindrance. Lay persons can be cremated according to Hindu law and priests can be buried according to Islamic law. In the West Indies and across Canada and North America, Kabir Panthis may opt for burning or burial.

Kabir panthis are required to observe sanctity and purity in their daily lives and behavior. The foundation of their belief and practice is Truth or Sat, an all encompassing formula for Love, Humility, Compassion and Unity. Kabir panthi priests are called Mahants. God is commonly called "Sat Purush", "sat sahib" or "kabir sahib". Good behavior and meditation on the purest aspect of God are the methods of finding fulfillment in life. All burdens of body and mind derive from not following this simple Truth. Kabir panthis wear small rosaries made from Tulsi beads, called Kanthi Mala. The mala represents the culmination of virtuous actions. White clothing is worn as a symbol of purity at all religious ceremonies.

During their religious ceremonies Kabir panthis sing the bhajans and saakhis of Kabir to the music of cymbals, drums and other east Indian instruments. The guru recites various Hindi prayers, all of which remind devotees to remember God in all that they do.

One's mind and body must be kept "white" or pure by contemplation and avoiding gross and complicated behaviour. Such practice will allow one to attain salvation while living no matter what ones religion or other personal endeavour may be. It is worn by choice and is typically given to one who has committed to avoiding lust, anger, greed, attachment to perishable things, and ego. Sahaja Yoga involves remembering God by repeating Sat Naam or Sohang Sat Naam, this focuses the wavering energies of the physical and mental aspects of the individual. Kabir Panthis believe in simplicity of life; simple food, clothing and belongings. One should only acquire what is needed for sustenance. Kabir Panthis are vegetarians and avoid the use of alcohol, tobacco and other intoxicants.

Initiation into the Kabir panth is accomplished by the tying of a kanthi, or necklace of beads, around the neck of an initiate by a Mahant. The religious service of the Kabir panth, called a chauka, involves marking a square with sides of five meters in length. The Mahant sits at one end and conducts bhajans. The ceremony also includes the acceptance of the remembrance and recital of divine names as the single most important aid to spiritual realisation. The typical greeting used when meeting other Kabir Panthis is Bandagie Saheb which means I bow to the Saheb who exists in you and me. In general, however, Kabir panthis are simply followers of the path of Kabir. In this broad context anyone who does so can be considered a Kabir panthi.

Although Kabir panthis can be of any religion, most of them claim to be Vaishnava.[3] This is because Kabirdas (servant [of God] Kabir) was a devotee of Lord Rama[4]

Separate splinter groups claim to have split off from the main early organizations. One of the largest groups of Kabir Panthis outside India is in Trinidad: three smaller active groups exist in Guyana, Suriname and also in Canada. The Kabir Panth Association in Trinidad operates two primary schools and was one of the first religious denominational schools founded in the region. Recently, other groups have split from the association forming their own branches of Kabir Panth namely the Kabir Chaura Mat and the Satya Kabir Nidhi.

Scripture

The Sacred book of the Kabirpanthi religion is the Bijak, many passages from which are presented in the Guru Granth Sahib. In a blunt and uncompromising style the book exhorts its readers to shed their delusions, pretensions, and orthodoxies in favor of a direct experience of truth. It satirizes hypocrisy, greed, and violence, especially among the religious.

The Bījak includes three main sections (called Ramainī, Shabda and Sākhī) and a fourth section containing miscellaneous folksongs. Most of Kabir's material has been popularized through the song form known as Shabda (or pada) and through the aphoristic two-line sākhī (or doha) that serves throughout north India as a vehicle for popular wisdom. Other sacred texts include the Anuraag Saagar, the story of creation as told to one of Kabir's disciple Dharamdas, and the Maan Sarowar, another collection of teachings of Kabir.

Major centers

The centeres of major branches of Kabirpanthis are the [5]

  • Kabir Chaura based in Varanasi with a branch at Maghar, founded by Shruta Gopal Sahib (d. 1551 AD)[6]
  • Biddupur seat founded by Jagu Sahib
  • Dhanuati (Chhapra, Bihar) founded by Bhagvan Sahib, the scribe of Bijak[7]
  • Chhatisgarh seat at Kudurmal, founded by Muktamani Sahib (Vikram Samvat 1570-1630). They belong to the line of Dharmadas Sahib.

The Dharamdasi lineage was founded by Kabir's disciple Dharamdas, a Kasaudhan merchant, and his son Churamani. Dharamdas was the chief disciple of Kabir who was a resident of Bandhogarh near Jabalpur. There are several minor branches including one Kamal branch in Maharashtra, said to have been founded by Kabir's son Kamal.

Muslim origin Kabir panthis have Maghar as their headquarters. The Kabir Chaura Math is on the site where Kabir traditionally gave instructions to his disciples. The Math or monastery contains the Khanraon, a pair of wooden sandals representing the feet of Kabir, and the Gaddi, the pillow of Kabir. Pictures of Kabir, Ramananda, Ravidas and Mahants are on the walls of the Math. Kabir poured scorn on the idea of spiritual benefit from holy places.

Chants

The main chant or Simran of the Kabirpanthi religion is Sant Kabir Ji. Param Pujania Swami Kabirsahabji Maharaj = Response: Sant Kabir ji Mera Shat Shat Namaskar hai !! In The island republic of Trinidad & Tobago as well as across the United States and Canada, the Simran of Kabir Panthis is Sat Naam or Satya Naam. In meditation some may use Soaham or Sohang and Sat Naam.

References

  1. ^ "We have not yet met any Muslim Kabirpanthi anywhere in Bihar and eastern UP, not even in Banaras, the hometown of Kabir". Dissent, protest, and reform in Indian civilization By Subhash Chandra Malik
  2. ^ Kabir - Chhatisgarh - Parishisht, (2003) ©IGNCA, last accessed Sept 3, 2007.
  3. ^ P. 205, The History, Antiquities, Topography, and Statistics of Eastern India
  4. ^ "Bhakta Kabir Das"
  5. ^ भारत में कबीर-पंथ की प्रमुख शाखाएं http://tdil.mit.gov.in/coilnet/ignca/kabir026.htm#005
  6. ^ list of Acharyas of the Moolgadi http://www.kabirchaura.com/lineage/lineage.htm
  7. ^ Essays and lectures on the religions of the Hindus, Volume 1 By Horace Hayman Wilson, Reinhold Rost

External links

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