Kabir Jayanti ( 14 June) is being observed at a time when the message of the great saint for inter-faith harmony is really needed in very troubled times. Such a great saint would like to be remembered on his jayanti not in terms of any ceremonies but in terms of real commitment to his everlasting message of true spirituality, love, devotion and inter-faith harmony. In addition Sant Kabir also remains a great inspirational presence for all those who stand up against the false authority of arbitrary use of power to spread sectarianism and to oppress the weak.
Over five centuries after he confronted the most powerful pillars of establishment with truth and courage, Sant Kabir reigns in the hearts of millions as an compromising social reformer and people’s poet with perhaps the widest reach in India.
An additional reason for remembering the weaver poet today is that the community of weavers with whom he is identified so widely has been passing through extremely difficult times in recent years and several voices of distress from the communities of handloom weavers have been saying that if they are not helped on the basis of urgency their livelihoods may be lost forever.
Kabir was a relentless seeker of truth. He clearly saw false values pervading all around him in society, promoted by the more powerful people, and he exposed and criticized these all the time, while seeking the path of truth. He was a very free thinker and he protected this freedom all his life in the middle of many difficulties.
Kabir was one of the most courageous persons of all times, as seen in many episodes of his life. However a very important aspect of his great courage was that it was never used for violence against others but always for peace and for peaceful resistance against injustice and social ills.
The persecution and disaster he faced instead of distracting him took him towards even deeper realization of truth, as in pain and distress he had to engage in even deeper search for solace and support within him. He had an exceptional talent for going to the heart of the matter while ignoring the frivolous or less important aspects. Hence he was able to rise above all narrow and often frivolous debates of his times, based on sects and religions, and focus on the most basic issues.
He was a working class reformer and poet. He continued to earn his living from working as a weaver. Most of his colleagues, friends and followers, also from working and artisan class, continued to combine their daily toil along with spiritual and reformist pursuits.
Poetry came naturally to Kabir and he said his verse in the spoken dialect of his people, never introducing any artificiality in his language and style. Often his verse was in harmony with the tune of the loom on which he was weaving cloth. One of the reasons why it could become so popular and was remembered easily by people was that it came so easily to lips for singing and humming.
The essential message of Kabir is that the most essential task in human life is to devote oneself to the welfare of others and to be compassionate. Life should be simple and based on few needs. This saves our energy and time for pursuing the higher purpose of life. Excessive pursuit of consumption and luxuries takes us away from the real purpose of life. Intoxicants (liquor, opium etc.) should be entirely avoided. The egoistic tendencies of a person are harmful and should be curbed. We should never be afraid to speak and act against injustice and wrong-doing. Rituals are not necessary at all and are often harmful or silly distractions on which time and effort should not be wasted. The greatness of God is present in all living beings and so one should serve God not by empty rituals but by reducing the distress of all living beings, particularly those who need our help.
To get the strength and courage of living the right life, one should seek to realize the God within us, the God in our hearts, the truth in our hearts, and this is where we get support and solace for our right living, no matter how many difficulties there may be in such a path. It is not at all necessary to renounce family or working life for this, one can realize this righteousness of life and closeness to God while continuing one’s livelihood and family life.
Kabir’s poetry is one of the greatest examples of stating the essential truths of life in down to earth ways. He exposed false values in such cutting-edge ways and by using such living symbols that even his opponents were left speechless. He was a great communicator who used verse that could be sung easily and naturally.
Today we are living in very difficult times in which inter-faith harmony is being disrupted and those who are weak are suffering further from arbitrary exercise of power. Hypocrisy and falsehoods are being used at several levels to suppress truth and justice. Those who stand up for truth and justice are threatened in several ways. In these troubling times the legacy of Sant Kabir is a source of strength for the weak and the oppressed and will always remain so. The earthy wisdom and sky-high courage of Kabir remain a great source of learning as well as education for us even today.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Navjeevan, Man over Machine and Earth beyond Borders.