Bhagat Kabir (1398 - 1518)

Sufi Author of Sikh Scripture

Red Robed Sufi of Modern Nankana Sahib
Red Robed Sufi of Modern Nankana Sahib. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Birth and Family Life of Bhagat Kabir

Legend says that Bhagat Kabir Das was born in Varanasi (modern day Banaras), India. He apparently lived a long life. His birth is thought to have happened in *1398 A.D. His death occurred either in 1448 A.D., or 1518 A.D. Historic tradition according to his followers gives his age at death as 120 years. However modern historians are able to account for only 50 of the 120 years of his supposed lifespan.

Bhagat Kabir became a strong influence in the philosophy developed by Sikhism's founders, Guru Nanak Dev (born of a Hindu family), and Bhai Mardana (born of a Muslim family). It is uncertain whether the life of Kabir predates that of Guru Nanak. There is a question as to whether he died just before the birth of the first guru, or lived on another 70 years. No actual evidence has been discovered to support of the popular tradition that Kabir and Guru Nanak actually met in person. Never the less they became contemporaries in breaking down old patterns of caste, idolatry, ritual and superstition.

Kabir's origins are somewhat obscure. It is a generally accepted belief that as a very young child his Brahmin Hindu mother abandoned him after becoming widowed and destitute. A Muslim weaver by name of Niru adopted the child into his family and raised him, training him in the weaving trade. Kabir and his adopted family apparently belonged to the weaver caste of Julaha.

It is believed that they likely originated from a Yogi sect of married householders of Nath influence before converting to Islam.

As a grown man, Kabir became the disciple of Ramananda, a Hindu teacher. Tradition indicates that Kabir did not live the life of an ascetic nor remain celibate. Evidently he married a woman Loi.

His wife bore him two children and they raised a family together.

Spiritual Life of Bhagat Kabir

Kabir is the author of extensive writings which bear evidence that he continually sought to integrate the devotional bhakta and Nath yogic philosophies of Hinduism with the more enlightened Sufi traditions of Islam. However Kabir rejected heavily dogmatic, unenlightened, and contradictory aspects of both religions.

Bhagat Kabir is one of 43 authors whose writings are included in the scripture of Guru Granth Sahib. In all, 3151 lines of poetic verse attributed to Kabir appear in the scripture of Gurbani collected by First Guru Nanak and later compiled by Fifth Guru Arjun Dev in the original Adi Granth of 1604 A.D. The verses included in Guru Granth represent only a selected portion of compositions penned by Bhagat Kabir. Other compilations of his works are titled Bijak and Kabir Granthavali. The satirical style of his prose poked, provoked, and challenged religious rituals and rites at the heart of both Hindu and Islamic philosophies. Consequently, Kabir lost favor with the inflexible leaders of both religious sects who publicly banished him from their provinces.

Bhagat Kabir at the End of Life

Kabir eventually left Varanasi and lived in exile as a recluse on the outskirts of society.

He journeyed throughout India with his disciples, a band of itinerant followers, until his death near Gorakh Pur at Magahar. Ironic in death, as in life, Kabir had the last and final word debunking superstitious ritual. Bhagat KAbir took leave of life in the village of Magahar 20 some miles (43 kilometers) to the southeast of Basti. Hindus believed the choice of his final resting place to be the least auspicious place where one might depart life to surely be reborn as a donkey, while considering Varanasi to be a guaranteed direct pathway to heaven.

Bhagat Kabir Bani, Writings, and Works

The writings and works of Bhagat Kabir bani appearing in Guru Granth Sahib address concerns about contradictions of spiritual concepts on a variety of subjects:

Selections in Guru Granth Sahib of Bhagat Kabir bani can be read on pages or Ang:

  • 91 - 92
  • 323 - 330
  • 330 - 340
  • 340 - 343
  • 343 - 344
  • 344 - 345
  • 475 - 485
  • 524
  • 654 - 656
  • 691 - 692
  • 727
  • 792 - 793
  • 855 - 858
  • 870 - 873
  • 947 - 956
  • 957 - 966
  • 1102 - 1106
  • 1123 - 1124
  • 1157 - 1162
  • 1162 - 1163
  • 1193 - 1195
  • 1196
  • 1251 - 1252
  • 1253
  • 1349 - 1350
  • 1364 - 1377

*The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism by Harbans Singh