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Kabir’s guru and the Dwij propaganda

From Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, a Dwij, to Purushottam Agrawal, a non-Dwij supporting Brahmanism, all have, in one way or the other, passed Ramanand off as Kabir's guru, even though Kabir’s teachings are not in sync with Ramanand’s. Kabir's real mentor was his self-knowledge which he termed ‘wisdom’. Kanwal Bharti explains

Kasi mein hum pragat bhae hain,

Ramanand chetaay[1]

These lines are not found in either Kabir Granthawalior Guru Granth Sahib. Yet, based on these lines, all the biographers of Kabir have concluded that Ramanand taught Kabir, that is, he was Kabir’s guru. If these lines are not from Kabir Granthawali, then what is their source? No biographer has mentioned the source of these lines. They could have been written by a follower of the Ramanandi Vaishnav sect at a later stage.  But it is not just the authenticity of these lines that is in question. Dwij authors have also misinterpreted these lines. What they actually mean is that Kabir had himself come to Kashi to alert and teach Ramanand.

Muslim Kabirpanthi (Muslim followers of Kabir’s ideology) believe that Kabir’s guru was Sheikh Taqi, a Sufi saint. In this context, Shyam Sundar Das states:

“Kabir has clearly mentioned that his guru was a resident of Benaras. For this reason, the ‘Pir of Oonji’ and Taqi cannot be his guru. ‘Ghat ghat hai anivasi sunahu Taqi tum sheikh’ – this line by Kabir does not reflect the respect due to a guru under whose influence Kabir has written about the impossible being possible: ‘Guru prasad sui kai naukei hasti avei jaahi.’ Instead, he seems to be preaching to Taqi. Though this line is not found anywhere in Kabir Granthawali, the word ‘Sheikh’ has been used at several places without implying special respect. Rather, the context primarily expresses reproach. Therefore, Taqi cannot be considered  Kabir’s guru in any way.”[2]

A painting of Kabir

Shyam Sundar Das’ arguments repudiating the theory that Sheikh Taqi was Kabir’s guru apply to Ramanand as well, as he too did not receive any respect from Kabir. However, he puts all these arguments aside while referring to Ramanand as Kabir’s guru. He adds:

“Throughout his life, he [Kabir] kept on chanting Ram’s name, which is clearly indicative of Ramanand’s influence on him. There should thus be no dispute in considering Ramanand as Kabir’s guru, irrespective of whether Ramanand had personally preached to Kabir or Kabir had revered him as a ‘self-adopted’ guru.[3]

But the next moment Shyam Sundar Das admits :
“It is not appropriate to consider Ramanand ji as his guru merely on the basis of a legend. This legend does not pass the test of historical enquiry. If we consider that Ramanandji lived till 1467, although there is evidence suggesting he died 14-15 years earlier, Kabir should have been 11 years old at the time, as we have already proved that he was born in 1456. It is not easy to believe that he wandered and preached at a tender age of 11 years. And, if Ramanand ji died in 1453 or so, then this legend proves to be false as Kabir would have been born 3-4 years later only.”[4]

Despite this historical evidence, Shyam Sundar Das goes on to argue:

“Until we find any concrete evidence otherwise, we cannot even completely deny this popular legend of Ramanand being Kabir’s guru. It is quite possible that Ramanand ji’s teachings (as Kabir says, ‘Guru ke sabad mera man laagaa’), repeated meetings with him or what Kabir heard about his virtues had a great impact on him as a child. Under this influence, he could have revered Ramanand ji as his mentor.”[5]

Even here we observe Eklavya’s concocted story that he practised in front of a statue of Dronacharya built by him and revered him as his guru, being repeated. Both these tales are false. Neither Dronacharya was idolized by Eklavya, nor did Ramanand receive such reverence from Kabir. Both Sheikh and Ramanand cannot be considered Kabir’s guru. While Kabir reprimanded Sheikh, he didn’t spare Brahmins either.

He had the least regard for the Brahmin. He even referred to him as “the world’s ass”.[6] Had he accepted Ramanand as his mentor, his ideology would have been different. He wouldn’t have questioned the Vedas, scriptures and the concepts of parlok (heaven), moksha (salvation) and punarjanm (rebirth), all of which Ramanand believed in. This is a wild, baseless assumption! Why would Kabir accept Ramanand as his guru when he stood against Ramanand’s own beliefs?

Kabir shares no such similarity with Ramanand that could be attributed to him. Well, there is no cure for adamance, because of which Hazari Prasad Dwivedi has seen a Ram devotee in Kabir. Treating this as Ramanand’s contribution, he writes:

“One who reads Kabirdas knows that in his verses, Kabir refers to something unique and simple, which is found neither in the haughty utterances of the Siddhas and Yogis, nor in the Vedantis’ (followers of the Vedanta philosophy) cacophonous texts. Even the ‘alas’ of social reformers is devoid of this unique simplicity. Then what was it that a spirited and carefree Kabir inherited from Ramanand for which he was beholden to him? ”[7]

He further writes:

“That element was devotion, which the Yogis, Sahajyani Siddhas, ritualists, ‘Pandits’ ‘Mullahs’ and ‘Qazis’ did not possess. It was this marvelous gem which Kabir was so grateful to have received. And devotion to whom? Ram! Ram-Nam was the ultimate gift of Ramanand to Kabir. ‘Ram’ and ‘devotion to him’ are Ramanand’s two gifts to Kabir which distinguished him from the Yogis, Siddhas, Pandits and Mullahs.”[8]

When Hazari Prasad Dwivedi failed to prove his point through his ideology, he came up with an imaginary “devotion to Ram” as a means to forcefully associate Kabir with Ramanand. In the process, he had to fabricate this dramatic story, too:

“Kabir was standing in the multi-ritualistic arid desert of spirituality. He was not someone who would give up easily. The whole world was grappling with its own predicaments. He found no one to connect with. The sad part was that everyone to whom he expressed himself ultimately wronged him. He could not find someone to whom he could express his feelings without any apprehension. He was desperately searching for something but in vain. His mind and soul were deeply affected by the ocean of uncertainty around him. He was restless and was not able to find a companion in whose company he could seek some solace. In such a condition, he met Ramanand ji. Kabirdas considered himself fortunate to have found a ‘sadguru’ (who preaches complete and true knowledge) in Ramanadji.”[9]

Furthermore, Dwivedi comments on those who do not consider Ramanand as Kabir’s guru: “While those who want to uphold their unintelligible dissent in the name of Kabirdas may harbour scepticism in this context, Kabirdas himself had no such reservation:

“Sadguru ke partap se, miti gayo sab dukh-dard,

Kah Kabir dubidha miti, guru miliya Ramanand.”[10]

The above saakhi (verse) is not found in Kabir Granthawali. It has been deliberately introduced and may have been concocted by some purported Ramanandi Vaishnav-panthi after Kabir’s death. Moreover, in support of his dramatic version of Kabir being in a desert, Dwivedi quotes:

“Aisa koi na milei jason rahiye laagi,

Sab jag jaltan dekhiya apni apni aagi.

Aisa koi na milai jason kahun nisank,

Jason hirdai kii kahun so phiri marei dank.”[11]

(He has attributed this to verse No 66 in Kabir Granthawali (ed Shyam Sundar Das). However this isn’t the verse no 66 in the book.)

Dwivedi tries very hard to associate Kabir with Ramanand using “Ram”. But even that “Ram” does not match that of Ramanand. It is worth noting that Dwivedi has concocted this tale of “Ram Katha” in order to justify the legend according to which Kabir had lain on the steps of Panchaganga Ghat to convince Ramanand to accept him as his disciple. Shyam Sundar Das writes:

“According to the legend, when Kabir started singing his devotional songs while preaching, he realized that his teachings wouldn’t be accepted until he was initiated by a guru, since people used to tease him as ‘Nigura’ (without a teacher). According to them, he who had not been taught by a guru was not worthy of teaching others. Therefore Kabir was anxious about making someone his mentor. It is said that Swami Ramanand ji was the most renowned Mahatma (revered person) in Kashi at the time. Therefore, Kabir approached him. But Ramanand did not accept Kabir as his disciple as he was a Muslim. Therefore Kabir played a trick, which worked. Ramanand ji used to go to Panchaganga Ghat to take bath at dawn daily. One day, Kabir went to the ghat ahead of Ramanand ji and lay on the steps of the ghat. When Swami ji was walking up the steps after taking his bath, he did not notice Kabir in the dark and stepped on Kabir’s head. Instantly, he uttered – ‘Ram-Ram’. Kabir got up and grabbed his leg saying, ‘Today, you have become my guru by giving me Ram-Ram mantra’. Ramanand ji was left speechless. From that moment on, Kabir proclaimed himself as Ramanand’s disciple.”[12]

As mentioned above, Shyam Sundar Das has rebutted the historical basis of this legend. This story is also meaningless. If Kabir had lain on the step of Panchganga before Ramanand even got there, then why did Ramanand not step on him while walking down to the river? Wasn’t it dark while walking down to the river? Or did darkness fall only when he was walking back up? What a unique way of finding a guru! The guru does not want to accept someone as a disciple, and the latter is adamant on becoming a disciple. Was Kabir so naïve that he lay on the stairs to listen to the uttering of ‘Ram-Ram’? Was the word Ram unfamiliar to Kabir? Didn’t he hear the word ‘Ram’ before? From morning to evening, Ramanand might have been chanting ‘Ram-Ram’ innumerable times, so whoever heard him would have become his disciple? If someone regards Kabir as a disciple of Ramanand on the basis of this baseless story and despite being unable to get hold of historical evidence, then it is nothing but his dogma.

Purushottam Agarwal also displays similar dogmatism. When it was amply clear that Kabir was not a disciple of Ramanand and both of them were ideological opponents, which automatically rejects the proposition that there was a relationship of guru and disciple, the distressed Brahmin lobby tasked Purushottam Agarwal to save Ramanand from the attacks of Dalit writers and not let the efforts of Hazari Prasad Dwivedi go to waste. The Brahmin lobby paid Agrawal in advance and he devoted himself to this virtuous work of serving the Brahmins. He manipulated history, quoted from the Sanskrit texts of Brahmins, while making an all-out effort to place Kabir in the fort of Brahmanism. He chose facts selectively and conveniently but he could not prove anything, and made a mockery of himself. In the end when he failed to find any concrete evidence, he settled on dogmas. It is worth noting how he projects his assertion in his sponsored book “Akath Kahani Prem Ki” on Kabir:

“Those who shun the traditionally accepted Ramanand-Kabir relationship raise this question too: Why is there no clear mention of Ramanand or any other person as his guru in Kabir’s works? My counter-question to them is: Do the works of any saints, devotees or Sadhaks (seekers) from the time of Sarahapa to Tulsidas mention their gurus? Then what is the problem of accepting that none of them had a guru? Indeed, there is a problem. It was unimaginable to be without a guru in that tradition of spiritual practice. Those who know about this should also remember that not mentioning one’s guru was indeed the acceptable norm in that tradition.[13]

Take a look at another instance of his assertion:

“If Kabir’s work does not mention Ramanand’s name, then it does not mention the names of Niru and Neema either. The sources that refer to Niru and Neema as parents of Kabir also mention Ramanand as Kabir’s guru. Those who deny Ramanand as Kabir’s guru should also say that Niru and Neema neither gave birth to Kabir nor did they bring him up.”[14]

This dogmatism means that either we accept that Ramanand was Kabir’s guru, or we don’t believe that Nima and Neeru were his parents. Is there a remedy for this dogmatism? The fortune that Purushottam Agarwal has made from this sponsored book has surpassed his earnings from his other works. He was not only bestowed with fame, wealth and awards, but his book was also introduced in the curriculum. Is all of this little in return for strangling the truth?

Let’s discuss the testimony of Nabhadas, too. About 150 years after Kabir’s death, Nabhadas, a contemporary of Tulsidas, listed the twelve disciples of Ramanand in his work Bhaktamal (1585) as Kabir, Raidas, Pipa, Surasuranand, Sakhanand, Bhavanand, Dhanna, Sen, Mahanand, Paramanand, Shriyanand and Anantanand.[15] Take a closer look at these names. Among these, five saints – Kabir, Raidas, Pippa, Dhanna and Sen – don’t have “nand” as suffix in their names. Being disciples of Ramanand, their names should have had “nand” as suffix. But if Kabir is not Kabiranand, Raidas is not Raidasnand, Pipa is not Pipanand, Dhanna is not Dhananand and Sen is not Sananand, then the reason behind this is that none of them was a disciple of Ramanand.

As far as I know, the first person to reject the tradition, legend and dogma suggesting Kabir was a disciple of Ramanand was Rakesh Gupta. He had written an article titled “Kya Kabir Ramanand ke Shishya the” in Sammelan Patrika in 1940, which must have been really explosive in the Hindi world of seven decades ago.

It is the 12th article of the compilation Sur Sur Tulsi Sasi Tatha anya Nibandh (1999). The most important question that Dr Rakesh Gupta has raised in his article is this: “Was it possible that Kabir, who has placed guru above God in ‘Guru Gobind dou khade, kake lagun panye’, could have openly opposed Ramanand’s beliefs while revering him at the same time as his guru? Is it justified to conclude that Kabir, who saw guru in such high regard and was completely devoted to him, would be a fierce and unkind critic of the principles of his own guru? Is it likely that Kabir, who advised complete faith on and eternal devotion to ‘Satguru’, would consider such a person as his guru whom he criticized strongly throughout his life? Should we think that Kabir, who believed in blindly following in his guru’s footsteps, revered Ramanand as guru, yet never practised his teachings while preaching?”[16]

He also contradicted the propositions of Ayodhya Singh Upadhyay and Ramchandra Shukla in his article. While countering Upadhyay’s argument that Kabir had received deep knowledge of Hinduism only from the “satsang” (noble companionship) of Ramanand, Dr Rakesh Gupta writes:

“We also believe that he was in the noble companionship of Ramanand, but what was his objective? Obviously, it was not to embrace the teachings of Hindu scriptures and Ramanand as truth, but to criticize and oppose them. If Upadhyay ji can defend the discipleship of Kabir in this form too, then what else would I say besides asking for his forgiveness for my audacity?”[17]

Refuting the imagination of Ramchandra Shukla, he wrote:

In this context, while Ramchandra Shukla’s imagination that Kabir would have wished to become Ramanand’s disciple upon hearing his fame in childhood may be partly correct, it is certain that when Kabir’s personality had fully developed, he would have completely discarded the idea of becoming his disciple, given the stark contrast in their personalities.”[18]

At the end of the article, Dr Rakesh Gupta has dwelt upon the question of whether Kabir had drawn the spirit of Advaitvad (monism) from Ramanand, as is the opinion of critics:

“Did Ramanand ever try to take him towards God as Kabir expected from his guru? If yes, then we will request our learned readers to tell us how, when, and in what form? And, if not, how do we believe that Kabir would have ever considered Ramanand as his Guru even in his dreams? How do we convince ourselves that Kabir, who strongly opposed Ramanand’s notions, would not have aimed straight at Ramanand while saying ‘Pandit Vaad Badante Jhutha’? How should we assume that Kabir would have allowed the sense of guru-spirit to percolate to his heart, despite being clearly opposed to Ramanand and his principles?”[19]

Undoubtedly, Ramanand was not Kabir’s guru. Kabir was not even remotely connected to Ramanand’s teachings. If he was, the teachings of both would have been same, whereas we find fundamental differences in them. Ramanand was Danddhari (vested with authority), while Kabir was not; Ramanand believed in idol-worship, while Kabir used to decry idol worship; Ramanand had faith in Vedas and Vedic religion, whereas Kabir had faith neither in Vedas nor in Vedic religion; Ramanand’s Ram was communal, incarnation of Vishnu, and led a conjugal life, while Kabir’s Ram was universal, Nirgun (free from all attributes), Nirakar (formless), Niranjan (pure). Ramanand believed in Parlok, while Kabir did not believe in the concept of Parlok. These contrasts do not prove that Kabir was even a supporter of Ramanand, let alone a disciple.

Then, who was Kabir’s guru? For Kabir, guru is a tatva, which is an attribute of innerness. Kabir calls it “vivek” (wisdom), “kahu kabir main so guru paya jaka naau bibekao”.[20]

But it would not be wrong to say that the Brahmin with whom Kabir had waged ideological battles was none other than Ramanand. Although he was not a contemporary of Kabir, his Ramanandi sect and Vaishnavism were alive and fully active. Kabir’s lines like “brahman guru jagat ka sadhu ka guru naahin”, “pandit vaad badante jhootha”, “pande na karasi vaad-vivad” and “baisano bhaya tau ka bhaya” clearly suggest that the Brahmin with whom Kabir was engaged in debates and discussions was indeed a Ramanandi Brahmin. In the line ‘kasi mein ham prakat bhaye hain ramanand chetaay’ too, he is warning the same Ramanandi. He even told him that ‘tu brahman main kasi ka julaha, cheenhi na mor giyana’[21], and ‘jau tu brahman brahmani jaaya, tau aan vat kahe nahin aya.’[22]

Similar to the fierce and thought-provoking debates on religion, society and politics between Dr Ambedkar and Gandhi in the 20th century, Kabir and the Ramanandi Brahmin had engaged in gripping debates in the 15th century. It is a great coincidence that while Kabir had challenged the Ramanandis (followers of Ramanand) to explain the deep spiritual meanings in mysterious riddles of his Ulatbaasis, Dr Ambedkar threw a similar challenge to his contemporary Pandits by writing Riddles in Hinduism.

Translation: Devina Auchoybur; copy-editing: Lokesh/Anil


[1] Shyam Sundar Das, Kabir Granthavali, p 18

[2] ibid, p 19-20

[3] ibid, p 20

[4] ibid, p 18

[5] ibid

[6] Kabir Samagra, p 435

[7] Kabir, p 113

[8] ibid

[9] ibid, p 113-114

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] Kabir Granthavali, p 17-18

[13] Purshottam Agrawal, ‘Akath Kahani Prem Ki’, p 307

[14] ibid

[15] Vachaspati Gairola, Bharatiya Dharam Shakhaye aur Unka Itihaas, 1988, p 381

[16] Sur Sur Tulsi Sasi Tatha anya Nibandh, p 96

[17] ibid

[18] ibid, p 97

[19] ibid, p 97-98

[20] Kabir Granthavali, p 207

[21] ibid, p 128

[22] ibid, p 214

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About The Author

Kanwal bharti

Kanwal Bharti (born February 1953) is a progressive Ambedkarite thinker and one of the most talked-about and active contemporary writers. Dalit Sahitya Kee Avdharna and Swami Achootanand Harihar Sanchayita are his key books. He was conferred with Dr Ambedkar Rashtriya Award in 1996 and Bhimratna Puraskar in 2001

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