As given in ''A glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province By H.A. Rose Vol II/K'' via Jat Land
Life of Kabir
Kabir-Panthi (कबीर-पंथी), a follower of Kabir. A life of Kabir, who was a little earlier than Luther, having been born in 1440, and who died in 1518 A.D., is beyond the scope of this article.* Of all the fourteen persons usually classed as Bhagats or saints viz., Beni, Bhikan, Dhanna, Shaikh Farid, Jaidev, Kabir, Namdeo, Pipa, Ramanand, Ravidas, Sadhna, Sainu, Surdas and Trilochan† (whose, lives are, for the most part, given in the Bhaktamala , or the North Indian 'Lives of the Saints') Kabir and Tulsi Das have had the greatest influence for good on the uneducated classes of Northern and Central India.
A mystery hangs over Kabir's birth, but it appears that whoever his parents may have been, he was brought up in a family of Musalman weavers at Benares. He is generally looked on as having been a weaver by caste, and the weavers of the country by a process well known in eastern ethnology are fond of calling themselves the descend- ants of this celebrated member of their caste.†† Many of the Julahas in the Punjab return their caste as Kabirbansi, and many of those who return their sect as Kabirbansi or Kabirpanthi, are probably little more than ordinary weavers who have no idea of distinguishing themselves from other Hindu weavers in matters of doctrine. However, Kabir whatever his caste may really have been, is said to have been a pupil of Ramanand, and whether this be true or not, it is beyond doubt that he imbibed a good deal of that master's teaching. From one point of view the Kabirpanthis are merely Ramdnandis who refuse to worship idols.
In the 14th century Ramdnand, the founder of the Bairagis, lived at Benares. One day he went to gather flowers for worship in his garden, but there he was seized and taken by the gardener's daughter to one of the rulers of that period. The girl took with her also the flowers which she herself had picked, and on the road found that they had turned into a handsome child. Thinking Ramanand a wizard she left both him and the child on the spot and fled homewards. Ramdnand then gave the child to a newly wedded Muhammadan Julaha and his wife who chanced to pass that way, and they brought the boy up as their own son.
Another version is that a Brahman's wife craved the boon of a son and used to do homage to her sadhu for one. But one day her husband's sister went to do him reverence in her stead, and it was to her that the sadhu granted the desired boon, though she was a virgin. On learning this the sadhu declared himself unable to recall his gift, and in due curse a child was born to her from a boil which formed on her hand when it was scratched by the rope at a well. In her shame she
(* See Kabir and the Kabir Panth, by the Revd. G. H. Westcott, Cawnpore, 1907.
† This list is from Trumpp's Religion der Sikhs, p. 67.
†† The connection between weaving and religion in the Punjab is as interesting as that between cobbling and irreligion in England. There are some Musalmans tribes (the Khokhars, Chughattas and Chauhans for instance who are found in many parts of the the Province performing indifferently the functions of the weaver and the mullah.
The life of Kabir)
secretly cast the child into a stream, where it was found by a weaver and his wife on their way home after their muklāwa. The child was named Kabir, from kur, palm, and bir, a son, and one day his adoptive mother took him to a tank to bathe. There too came Ramanand and hurt the boy with his sandals, but, when he began to cry, the saint endowed him with miraculous powers. Of his death Hindus and Muhammadans disputed for possession of his body, so it was placed under a cloth and when that was again removed it had disappeared. Half the cloth was then burnt by the Hindus, and the other half buried by the Muhammadans.
"In the midst of the dispute," says Professor Wilson, "Kabir himself appeared amongst them, and desiring them to look under the cloth supposed to cover his mortal remains, immediately vanished. On obeying his instructions they found nothing under the cloth but a heap of flowers." The Hindus took a half of them and burnt them at Benares ; the Muhammadans took the other half and buried them near Gorakhpur, where his death is said to have occurred. Flower-born, Kabir at his death turned to flowers again.
Kabir is in many ways rather a literary, than a religious, celebrity, and his writings, in the common Bhasha, are very voluminous. The Adi-Granth of the Sikhs is full of quotations from him, and he is more often quoted there than any other of the Bhagats. His apothegms are constantly on the lips of the educated classes, whether Hindu or Musalman, even at the present day ; and possibly there is no native author whose words are more often quoted than those of Kabir. It is noticeable, too, that Kabir instead of impressing on his disciples, like most Hindu leaders, the necessity of absolute adherence to the Guru, was fond of stimulating enquiry and encouraging criticisms of his own utterances.
Kabir was probably a Muhammadan Sufi,* but as a Sufi his teachins was addressed to Hindus as well as Muhammadans. Wilson's description of the Kabirpanthi doctrines is still exact : —
"The Kabirpanthis, in consequence of their master having been a reputed disciple of Ramauand and of their paying more respect to Vishnu than the other members of the Hindu triad, are always included among the Vaishnava sects and maintain, with most of them, the Ramawats especially, a friendly intercourse and political alliance. It is no part of their faith, however, to worship any Hindu deity, or to observe any of the rites or ceremonials of the Hindus, whether orthodox or schismatical. Such of their members as are living in the world conform outwardly to all the usages of their tribes and caste, and some of them even pretend to worship the usual divinities, although this is considered as going rather further than is justifiable. Those, however, who have abandoned the fetters of society abstain from all the ordinary practices, and address their homage chiefly in chanting hymns exclusively to the invisible Kabir. They use no mantra nor fixed form of salutation ; they have no peculiar mode of dress, and some of them go nearly naked, without objecting, however, to clothe themselves in order to appear dressed when clothing is considered decent or respectful. The mahants wear a small scull cap; the frontal marks, if worn, are usually those of the Vaishnava sects, or they make a streak with sandal or gopichadan along the ridge of the nose ; a necklace and rosary of tulsi are also worn by them, but all these outward signs are considered of no importance and the inward mail is the only essential point to be attended to." ---
(* According to Macauliffe (Sikh Religion, VI, p. l41), Kabir held the doctrine of ahinsa or the duty of non-destruction of life, even that of flowers. This doctrine would appear to be due to Jain influences. Kabir is reputed to have had a son, Kamal, who refused to look with favour on Hindus (Westcott, op. cit., p, 42) and who was thereupon lost to his father, though, according to Macauliffe, he is believed by the Kabir-pan this to bave been re-animated by Kabir.)
Kabirpanthi — Kabirwah
It is however very doubtful if the view that Kabir was probably a Muhammadan Sufi can be accepted with confidence, and Dr. G. A. Grierson would legard the sect. founded by Kabir as one of the bhakti-sects. A common feature of many of these sects is the mahaparsada or sacramental meal. On the evening of the appointed day the worshippers assemble and the mahant, or leading celebrant, reads a brief address, find then allows a short interval for prayer and meditation. All who feel themselves unworthy to proceed further then withdraw to a distance. Those that remain approach the senior celebrant in turn, and placing their hands together receive into the palm of the right hand, which is uppermost, a small consecrated wafer and two other articles of consecrated food. They then approach another celebrant, who pours into the palm of the right hand a few drops of water, which they drink. This foe d and water are regarded as Kabir's special gift, and it is said that all who receive it worthily will have eternal life. Part of the sacramental food is 'reserved' and is carefully kept from pollution for administration to the sick. After the sacrament there is a substantial meal which all attend, and which in its character closely resembles the early Christian love-feasts. It is possible that this rite was borrowed from the Jesuit missionaries at Agra, but the head-quarters of the Kabirpanthi sect are at Benares, and the rite is now likely to be a survival of historian influences.*
The Kabirpanthi sadhs or faqirs in this Province wear generally clothes dyed with brickdust colour (geru) ; and both they and the laity abstain from flesh and spirits. The present followers of Kabir hold an intermediate position between idolatry and monotheism, but the mission of Kabir himself is generally looked on as one directed against idolatry; and at Kanwardeh, near Ballabgarh, in the Delhi district, there is a Community of Kabir Panthis descended from an Aggarwal Bania of Puri, who used to travel with 52 cart-loads of Shivs and Saligrams behind him, but who was convinced by Kabir of the error of his ways. The sect of Kabirpanthis is probably better known in the Gangetic Valley than in the Punjab, and the Kabirpanthis are largely found in the south-east of the Province ; but considerable numbers are also returned from Sialkot and Gurdaspur, and it is said that the Meghs and Batwals, so common in these districts, are very generally Kabirpanthis. The sect is also very largely recruited from the Chamar (leather worker) and Julaha (weaver) castes, and it is open to men of all classes to become Kabirpanthis. The Kabirpanthi will almost always describe himself as a Hindu, but a certain number have returned the name as that of an independent religion, and some as a sect of the Sikhs.
An offshoot of the sect is the Dharm Dasias, founded by a wealthy merchant of Benares who turned sadhu. The Dharm Dasias,however, appear to differ in no way from the Kabirpanthis in doctrine, and they are very rarely found in the Punjab. †
Kabirwah (कबीरवाह), a Rajput clan (agricultural) found in Multan.
* J. R. A. S., 1907, p. 326. Dr. Grierson also calls attention to Kabir's doctrine of the shabda or word which is a remarkable Copy of the opening verses of St. John's Gospel.
† For an account of the Dharm Das section see Mr. Westcott's book, p. 105.