Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Sant Kabir: the extraordinary poet-saint of the Bhakti Movement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kabir, Bhakti Movement

Mains level : NA

President Kovind inaugurated the Sant Kabir Academy and Research Centre Swadesh Darshan Yojana and paid tribute to the Bhakti saint, Kabir at Maghar, his resting place in Uttar Pradesh.

Kabir and the Bhakti Movement

  • The Bhakti movement, which began in the 7th century in South India, had begun to spread across north India in the 14th and the 15th centuries.
  • The movement was characterized by popular poet-saints who sang devotional songs to God in vernacular languages.
  • Most of the preaching were meant for abolishing the Varna system and promoting Hindu-Muslim unity.
  • They emphasized an intense emotional attachment with God.

Who was Sant Kabir?

  • One school within the Bhakti movement was the Nirguni tradition and Sant Kabir was a prominent member of it.
  • In this tradition, God was understood to be a universal and formless being.
  • Many of the saints of the Bhakti movement came from the ranks of the lower to middle artisanal classes.
  • Kabir was an alleged ‘low caste’ weaver (Julaha), Raidas was a leather worker and Dadu a cotton carder.
  • Their radical dissent against orthodoxy and rejection of caste made these poet-saints extremely popular among the masses and their ideology of egalitarianism spread across India.

His life

  • 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.
  • He learned the art of weaving, likely studied meditative and devotional practices under the guidance of a Hindu guru and grew to become an eminent teacher and poet-singer.
  • Kabir’s beliefs were deeply radical, and he was known for his intense and outspoken voice which he used to attack the dominant religions and entrenched caste systems of the time.
  • He composed his verses orally and is generally assumed to be illiterate.

His literary works

  • Kabir’s compositions can be classified into three literary forms – dohas (short two liners), ramanas (rhymed 4 liners), sung compositions of varying length, known as padas (verses) and sabdas (words).
  • There are myriad legendary accounts on the other hand, for which there exists less of a factual historical basis.

Kabir’s critique of religion and caste

  • Kabir is in modern times portrayed as a figure that synthesized Islam and Hinduism.
  • While he did borrow elements from different traditions, he very forcefully proclaimed his independence from them.
  • He did not only target the rituals and practices of both Hinduism and Islam, but also dismissed the sacred authority of their religious books, the Vedas and the Quran.
  • He even combined Allah and Ram in his poems.
  • He sought to eradicate caste distinctions and attempted to create an egalitarian society, by stressing the notion that a Bhakt (devotee) was neither a Brahmin nor an ‘untouchable’ but just a Bhakt.

Kabir’s legacy

  • Kabir’s own humble origins and his radical message of egalitarianism fostered a community of his followers called the Kabir Panth.
  • A sect in northern and central India, many of their members are from the Dalit community.
  • All regard Kabir as their guru and treat the Bijak as their holy scripture.
  • The Bijak contains works attributed to Kabir and is argued by historians to have been written in the 17th century.
  • Several of Kabir’s verses and songs form a vital part of the Guru Granth Sahib.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2019:

Q.Consider the following statements:

1.Saint Nimbarka was a contemporary of Akbar.

2.Saint Kabir was greatly influenced by Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2


Post your answers here.
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