Kabir (15th/16th century)

  • The servant of the great

    The north Indian poet Kabir, “the Great” or “servant of the Great”, was probably active between 1500 and 1525 in Varanasi, the historic pilgrim town on the Ganges that was a centre of orthodox scholarship. Kabir came from a weaver caste.

    Kabir is the most famous Indian Sant (“saint”). His path and goal is bhakti, the mutual loving sharing of man and the One. Without this bhakti humans remain slaves of the world. They are unable to experience the unity which frees them from the cycle of becoming and destruction.

    Kabir usually names the One Ram or Hari. He understands him as shapeless inner reality which can be experienced without mediation. This experience pierces the heart of the pious person like an arrow. He is struck dead by the word of the One. Dead to the world, he lives in luminous recognition and eternal unity.

    Kabir's works spread widely across northern India thanks to devotees and wandering singers. For the Muslims he was somebody who believed in the unity of God. The hagiographer Nabhadas wrote in around 1600 that his works had validity for both Hindus and Muslims and that he had not sided with any particular group.