Finding Kabir in Banaras (2023)

Updated - November 30, 2019 at 01:26 PM.

A music festival unlocks a quest for the mystic poet in the alleys of the sacred city

Time moves like the row boats gliding along the Ganga. The tambura strums to the gentle rhythm of the river.

Shabnam Virmani is held captive by an audience that just won’t let her go at the fourth edition of the Mahindra Kabira Festival, a gala that celebrates the philosophy, poetry and music of the 15th-century mystic Kabir Das. “One more!” they shout and the singer obliges yet again, singing on a stage perched on Varanasi’s Guleria Ghat.

Virmani’smanjira (hand cymbal) taps with gusto as her voice soars like that of a wandering minstrel. “Come to Kabir’s house of love, where the gates are always open,” she sings.

The singer and documentary film-maker is most known for her Kabir Project, in which she traces his influence across several geographies, including the ghats of what was called Banaras.

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“While Banaras has certainly changed since Kabir’s time, what hasn’t is the bigotry, which makes Kabir remarkably relevant today,” Virmani tells BLink after her session, titled ‘Love in times of hate’.

Even 600 years ago, she points out, the city was riddled with warring organised religions, which Kabir had been a fearless critic of. “All of Kabir’s poetry urges us to not get attached to an external form, whether that’s a temple or mosque, or clinging to the identity of a community or clan. Kabir asks us to connect with ourselves and others at a deeper level, outside of these trappings,” Virmani says.

The festival, organised by the Mahindra Group and the entertainment company Teamwork Arts, is held every November, bringing the best of Kabir through music, theatre, walks and literature sessions. This year, the three-day festival opened on November 22.

Finding Kabir in Banaras (3)

Captivating sight: Shabham Virmani and Swagath Sivakumar bring out the moods of Kabir from his soulful compositions to gangster bhajans. BHARAT S TIWARI

Musicians such as flautist Ajay Prasanna, sitarist Rakesh Mishra, violinist Sarada Prasan Das, Kutch folk singer Mooralala Marwada, vocalist Om Prakash Nayak, and Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café were among the performers, bringing out different moods of Kabir — from the playful to the soulful. And there was also what Virmani calls “Gangster Bhajan” — in which Kabir asks people to not mess with him.

Not far from the Guleria Ghat are steep stairs that go up to the Alamgir Mosque, which in the 15th century had been a Krishna temple that Aurangzeb is said to have razed a century later. Kabir was 21 when he went to the temple in search of its priest, Guru Ramananda. But when Kabir asked him fordiksha or initiation, Ramananda refused, saying he wouldn’t take a meat-eater as a disciple. A heartbroken but resolute Kabir spent the night sleeping on the stairs outside the temple.

The next morning, before sunrise, when Ramananda was on his way to the Ganga for a bath, he stepped on Kabir by mistake. “Who is it? Is that Kabir? Ram! Ram,” Ramananda exclaimed.


“For Kabir, that was all the initiation he needed,” says local tour guide Devesh Kumar Agarwal, as he takes a batch of festival-goers on a curated heritage walk down from the mosque through the bylanes of Varanasi.

But Kabir’s Ram was different. It wasn’t Dasharat’s son, Ayodhya’s Ram or the god to whom temples were built. Kabir’s Ram stretched in all directions and all beings.

In every swan, Ram resides

There is no abode without Ram

Everywhere in the universe lives the light

Remember Ram, there is no other

Kabir’s poetry could well have incited passions today. “He would have had 10,000 defamation cases slapped on him today,” says independent music curator Sadhna Rao, who gave a lecture on Kabir’s verses.

A long walk from Alamgir Mosque takes you to the Kabir Math, near the Kabir Chaura or crossroads, which has some of the poet’s supposed belongings — such as hischarkha (spinning wheel) and wooden sandals. It also houses the graves of Kabir’s foster parents, Neeru and Neema, the weaver couple who raised him.

Kabir’s own relationship with the city was tenuous. After upsetting religious heads, he was banished from Varanasi at a ripe old age. Almost mocking the holiness of the city, Kabir decided to go to Maghar, known to be an ill-famed neighbouring city, 180km away, to give up his body. A death in Maghar was meant to be a ticket to hell. But Kabir loved dispelling myths, explains the Math’s caretaker. Mysteriously, when Kabir died in Maghar, his body was never found.

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There are many versions of Kabir’s life events. His work has largely been passed down orally through the years. Does he run the risk of ever becoming a myth?

“It’s a misplaced project to search for an authentic Kabir, given that the oldest record of Kabir is in the Guru Grant Sahib, which was compiled 80 years after Kabir passed away, a long time for abaani (verse) to be flowing in the oral traditions. But thanks to our robust oral traditions, we need to celebrate the fact that Kabir is claimed, owned and possessed with such diversity, in which you can find your own Kabir,” Virmani says.

Arunima Sinha is a 14-year-old student who delivers a moving performance with her team on one of the festival evenings. Is it just a song she has learnt, or can she relate to Kabir’s teachings?

Kabir is like family, she replies. “My favourite isBada hua toh kya hua jaise ped khajur , where Kabir says what’s the point of being a grown-up if you’re like the tall date tree, whose fruits are too high and which offers no shade to travellers. As I grow older, I need to make myself useful to others,” she says.

And that, perhaps, is finding Kabir.

(The writer was in Varanasi at the invitation of the Mahindra Kabira Festival 2019)

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Finding Kabir in Banaras (4) COMMENT NOW


What is Kabir Matha? ›

Kabir Matha stands on the Kabir road at Varanasi Lahartara. The matha includes a holy samadhi sthal and a temple. Each year thousands of pilgrims flock at the matha on the occasion of St Kabir's birth anniversary. Many relics related to the early life and teachings of Saint Kabir are preserved in this matha.

How was Kabir born? ›

Young Kabir was adopted by Nima, the wife of a Muslim weaver. In another version of the legend, the ascetic assured the mother that the birth would be in an unusual manner and so it was, Kabir was born out of the palm of his mother! In this version of the story too, he was later adopted by the same Nima.

When was Kabir born and died? ›

Kabir, (Arabic: “Great”) (born 1440, Varanasi, Jaunpur, India—died 1518, Maghar), iconoclastic Indian poet-saint revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The birth of Kabir remains shrouded in mystery and legend. One tradition holds that he was born in 1398, which would have made him 120 years old at his death.

What did Kabir Das contribute to the country? ›

He was a renowned saint, poet and social reformer of India who lived during the 15th century. His esteemed works and poems describe the greatness and oneness of the Supreme Being. Sant Kabir Das was a proponent of Bhakti Movement.

Why is Kabir important? ›

Kabir is widely believed to have become one of the many disciples of the Bhakti poet-saint Swami Ramananda in Varanasi, known for devotional Vaishnavism with a strong bent to monist Advaita philosophy teaching that God was inside every person, everything.

How was Kabir by caste? ›

Most historians agree on the following facts about Kabir. He was born in Varanasi and lived between the years 1398 and 1448, or till the year 1518 according to popular belief. He was from a community of 'lower caste' weavers of the Julaha caste, a group that had recently converted to Islam.

Was Kabir an untouchable? ›

The unambiguous answer is “no”. Kabir was not a Dalit. He did not belong to one of the Scheduled Castes. The Dalit castes had to face untouchability.

Did Kabir believe in God? ›

Kabir's philosophy about life was very clear-cut. He believed in living life in a very simplistic manner. He had a strong faith in the concept of oneness of God.

What happened to Kabir after death? ›

The enlightened master, Kabir left his body in Maghar in Januanry, 1518, Magh Shukl Ekadashi according to the Hindu calendar in Vikram Samvat 1575. He was loved equally by Muslims and Hindus, and on his death both a mazaar (tomb) and samadhi were built by the Muslims and Hindus respectively.

What are the teachings of Kabir? ›

The major ideas expressed by Kabir include:
  • Rejection of major religious traditions.
  • Criticism of all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam.
  • Criticism of priestly classes and the caste system.
  • Belief in a formless Supreme God.
  • Emphasis on Bhakti or devotion to achieve salvation.

Which famous saint was born in Kashi? ›

It was sometime in mid 15th century that the poet-saint Kabir Das was born in Kashi (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh).

Who brought Kabir? ›

Sant Kabir Saheb also known as Kabir Das and Kabir Saheb was born in 1398, Varanasi and brought up in a Muslim weavers family by Niru and Nima. He was a mystic poet and a musician and was one of the important saints of Hinduism and also considered a Sufi by Muslims.

How many dohas did Kabir wrote? ›

Sant Kabir wrote 25 Dohas based on life. The deep lines of his dohas answer all questions related to life and Karmas. One can read and enchant his dohas.

What were the followers of Kabir known as? ›

His followers are known as Kabirpanthis which means travellers who go on the path of Kabir.

Which type of poem Kabir wrote? ›

Saint Kabir's poems are known as Dohas. Dohas are defined as poetry composed in the form of Matrika metre. This genre of poetry emerged in the Apabrahmasa and usually used in Hindi poetry. Kabir's verses have been recorded in the Adi Granth of the Guru Granth Sahib.

What did Kabir say about religion? ›

He questioned two prevailing orthodoxies: the concept of rival Gods and the need for religious rituals for worshipping Him. In place of Allah and Ishwar he conceptualised a single universal God; in place of denominational religions, he conceptualised a universal religiosity.

Who did Kabir worship? ›

He worshipped the Nirguna form of God whom he calls by several names such as Rama, Allah, Hari, Sain, Sahib, etc. So all the statements are true about Kabir.

Why is Kabir remembered even today? ›

Kabir's message is immortal so he is remembered even today. His message of equality, love, communal amity and brotherhood without distinction on the basis of caste, creed and religion remains the beacon light for us.

Was Bhagat Kabir a Hindu? ›

Though a Hindu by tradition, he was a Muslim by upbringing. A weaver by profession, Kabir said he had been sent by the Lord himself.

Which caste is Kabirpanthi in Punjab? ›

The Kabirpanthi Julaha are a Sikh, Hindu and Muslim caste found in North India. They are followers of Kabirdas. They are classified as an Other Backward Caste in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

What religion is Kabir panth? ›

Hinduism. A small sect, the Kabirpanthis, acknowledges Kabir as its founder, but its importance is less than that of the vigorous new religion (Sikhism) founded by one of Kabir's disciples, Nanak.

Does Islam recognize caste? ›

While Islam requires egalitarianism and does not recognize any castes, only socio-economic classes, when it came to Persia and India, the existing divisions in these regions were adopted among the local Muslim societies.

What religion was untouchables? ›

untouchable, also called Dalit, officially Scheduled Caste, formerly Harijan, in traditional Indian society, the former name for any member of a wide range of low-caste Hindu groups and any person outside the caste system.

Who are known as the untouchable in India? ›

Dalit (from Sanskrit: दलित, romanized: dalita meaning "broken/scattered"), also previously known as untouchable, is the lowest stratum of the castes in India. Dalits were excluded from the four-fold varna system of Hinduism and were seen as forming a fifth varna, also known by the name of Panchama.

Who is Kabir in the Bible? ›

Per him, as per Bible also only Kabir is true god. “God Kabir met Jesus and took his soul to Satlok. On their way, God Kabir made him see his ancestors David, Moses, Abraham, etc.

Which God is Kabir? ›

The incarnation of God Kabir on the lotus flower

According to the method mentioned in the Vedas, The Supreme Being Kabir Saheb, in the body of a single element of a light (Tejpunj), came from Satlok and descended on a lotus flower in Laharatar lake in Kashi, Varanasi, India. The direct witness was Sage Ashtanand.

What is the meaning of Kabir in Bible? ›

In all Bible translations, the word Kabir is translated as "great" or "mighty", whereas Kabir is the name of the Supreme God mentioned in every scripture.

What happens if someone dies in Kashi? ›

Those who die in Kashi find moksha, salvation. That is, the cycle of life is over. Rebirth also means the good deeds of life are rewarded in the next, one is born into a higher caste for example. Or best: One is born in Kashi.

Does Kabir Singh lose his license? ›

As a result, his medical license is suspended for five years and he is evicted from his flat. The next morning, he learns of his grandmother's death; at the funeral, he and his father reconcile. Kabir also resolves to quit his habits.

Whose disable was Kabir? ›

Kabir is widely believed to have become the first disciple of the Bhakti poet-saint Swami Ramananda in Varanasi, known for devotional Vaishnavism with a strong bent to monist Advaita philosophy teaching that God was inside every person, everything.

Was Guru Nanak a disciple of Kabir? ›

Guru Nanak was influenced by Kabir. He was a spiritual thinker. Guru Nanak also expressed his thoughts in the form of poetry which was an effective way to propagate teachings. Kabir and Guru Nanak knew that Indians connected with poems and music, and hence they adopted poetry as a way to spread their teachings.

What is the difference between Kabir and Guru Nanak? ›

The Main Differences

Guru Nanak established a new religion called Sikhism, which was quite different from Hinduism and Islam. He explained his teachings in the holy scripture of Guru Granth Sahib. Whereas saint Kabir never found any religion but went on to earn millions of followers using his dohas.

What was Kabir dream of a religious practice? ›

Kabir preached that a simple union (sahaja-yoga), an emotional integration of the soul with God through personal devotion, could be achieved by all people, whether they were Hindus or Muslims ("I am not a Hindu, nor a Muslim am I"), or whether they were of high or low caste ("Now I have no caste, no creed").

Why is Kashi holy? ›

The land of Varanasi (Kashi) has been the ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages. Hindus believe that one who is graced to die on the land of Varanasi would attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth. Abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, the origins of Varanasi are yet unknown.

What is the English name of Varanasi? ›

In the Mahabharata the city is referred to as Kāśī (काशी: Kashi) from the Sanskrit verbal root kaś- "to shine", making Varanasi known as "City of Light", the "luminous city as an eminent seat of learning". The name was also used by pilgrims dating from Buddha's days.

Who is the oldest saint in history? ›

Saint Alban
Bornunknown Verulamium
Dieddisputed: 22 June 209, c. 251 or 304 Holywell Hill (formerly Holmhurst Hill), St Albans
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church Anglican Communion Eastern Orthodox Church
Major shrineCathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban
5 more rows

What are the qualities of a saint as referred by Kabir? ›

Only a person who entrenched in the divine or the eternal, who is free from egoism, likes and dislikes, selfishness, vanity, the duality of 'mine and thine', or 'I and the other', lust, greed and anger, who is endowed with equal vision, balanced mind, mercy, compassion, tolerance, righteousness and cosmic love, and who ...

Who are the witnesses of God Kabir? ›

Kabir Sahib was the guru of Nanak Sahib Ji. He is the witness of God Kabir.

Who was Kabir What did he think about? ›

Kabir was one of the great reformers of the Bhakti movement. He taught Hindu Muslim unity. He believed that God is one and Tshwar' and 'Allah' are different names of one God. He taught devotion to God and also preached brotherhood of man.

Where are Kabir's dohas found? ›

Saint and mystic poet Kabir Das lived in India in the 15th century. His verses can be found in the Sikhism text Guru Granth Sahib, the Satguru Granth Sahib of Saint Garib Das, and Kabir Sagar. His writings had an influence on the Bhakti movement in Hinduism.

Which language is used in Kabir Doha? ›

The correct answer is Hindi. Kabir composed his verses with simple Hindi words. Kabir's poems were in vernacular Hindi, borrowing from various dialects including Braj and Awadhi. They cover various aspects of life and call for loving devotion to God.

What was Kabir's philosophy? ›

He believed in the oneness of God and opposed the idea of worshipping the idols. Kabir emphasized the need to persistently purify the soul to be close to God rather than to indulge in various rituals.

Who is Kabir in Hinduism? ›

Kabir is considered both a Sufi and Brahmin saint. Kabir's poetry draws on both Hinduism and Islam, though he was critical of certain aspects of both faiths. Some of his verses are included in the compilation of Sikh scriptures known as the Adi Granth.

Which tribe is Kabir Panthi? ›

'Panika or Panka' is a Dravidian tribe, which is found in the Vindhya Pradesh and Shahdol area. The main occupation of this tribe is cloth weaving and hunting. It is believed that Sant Kabir was raised by a Panika woman. Hence most of the Panika's are Kabir Panthi and these people are known as "Kabirha".

Who is known as modern Kabir? ›

Born Vaidyanath Mishra in Bihar's Mithila region in 1911, he was destined to become a compulsive traveller, giving himself the appropriate nickname 'Yatri'. He started his poetic journey in Sanskrit, but soon started composing in his mother-tongue, Maithili, using Yatri as his nom-de-plume.

Why is Kabir called a mystic poet? ›

Instead of solely criticizing organized traditions, his poetry reflects his personal idea of transcendence of all conventional religious practices. This could be why Kabir is often categorized as a mystic rather than a saint, with the attending religious associations.

Who spread his thoughts through dohas? ›

Saint Kabir is a famous poet-saint of Medieval Indian History. He is famous for his couplet works called 'Dohas'(Doha literally means two lines).

What are dohas in history? ›

Dohas are an ancient lyrical verse format of Indian poetry, widely used by many Indian poets since the beginning of the 6th century AD. Dohas are written even now. Dohas of Tulsidas, Kabir, Raskhan, Rahim, and Nanak are famous and it contains many dohas.

What are the three main teachings of Kabir? ›

The major ideas expressed by Kabir include:
  • Rejection of major religious traditions.
  • Criticism of all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam.
  • Criticism of priestly classes and the caste system.
  • Belief in a formless Supreme God.
  • Emphasis on Bhakti or devotion to achieve salvation.

What were the beliefs of Kabir? ›

Kabir's teachings state that 'Bhakti' is the way to attain salvation, not religious practices
  • Kabir believed that salvation could be attained by sincere devotion to God, by being kind, performing good deeds and with bhakti. ...
  • Kabir's teachings are in the form of dohas or couplets, which are very popular throughout India.

Who was Kabir and why is he famous? ›

Sant Kabir Saheb also known as Kabir Das and Kabir Saheb was born in 1398, Varanasi and brought up in a Muslim weavers family by Niru and Nima. He was a mystic poet and a musician and was one of the important saints of Hinduism and also considered a Sufi by Muslims. He is respected by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

Who was the God that Kabir Worshipped? ›

He worshipped the Nirguna form of God whom he calls by several names such as Rama, Allah, Hari, Sain, Sahib, etc. So all the statements are true about Kabir.

Which God did Kabir Das believe? ›

Kabir Das believed in the formless God. His teachings were followed by people from different communities. He was a famous poet of the fifteenth century. He had a positive influence on the different religious movements of the century..

What ideas and practices were rejected by Kabir? ›

Kabir and Guru Nanak rejected all orthodox religions of that time. They were against the caste system, luxurious life, and discrimination based on religion.


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