Kabir was one of the most significant signatories writing in Hindi dialect, Avadhi during Medieval India. Indian vernacular literatures saw the light of the day due to saint poets – cum social reformers who tried to reform the society by their free and frank expressions against inhuman practices being perpetuated in society without their proper implications.
Kabir‘s birth and parentage still remains an enigma as biographers of Kabir are not unanimous in their opinions. On the basis of some external and internal sources, there is near agreement on certain facts to be now accepted as an authentic pool of information. Kabir was born at a place called Lahartara near Kashi in 1398. He is said to be born of a Brahmin widow who abandoned him to avoid public disgrace. A weaver, Niru, found the baby lying in bush and brought him up as the couple was issueless.
Since the couple was miserably poor, they could not afford to send Kabir for formal education and initiated him into their own profession of weaving. The following couplet reflects his lack of formal education:
I don’t touch ink or paper
This hand never grasped a pen.
The greatness of four ages
Kabir tells with mouth alone.
Kabir was a disciple of great Vaishnav saint Ramanand who had channelized his entire energy to reform the society vitiated by unsound conventional practices. He had also set up a monastery on the bank of holy Ganges, which drew persons from different sects for spiritual guidance. Kabir was deeply influenced by his lofty thoughts and practical approach and decided to be his disciple. But he was filled with panic thinking that he would not be accepted by Ramanand as his disciple as he belonged to low caste. He, therefore, thought of a plan and accordingly hid himself on the stairs of Kashighat where Ramanand used to come for his pre-dawn bath every day. Once his foot fell on Kabir‘s chest, and he cried out the word Ram! Ram! Out of mercy, which Kabir internalized as ̳mahamantra‘ and accepted him as his guru (preceptor). Kabir was really fortunate enough to sharpen his spiritual faculty under the generous guidance of a saint like Ramanand.
Though Kashi remained the centre of his activities, Kabir traveled extensively in the central and northern part of India. His frequent journeys offered him a mass of learning as reflected luxuriantly in his artistic manifestation. According to Mohan Singh Karki, “His acquisition and assimilation of knowledge and wisdom compares to Shakespeare‟s who too had little Latin and less Greek.” He was a man of dynamic personality who never hesitated in meeting scholars from various sects and religious or philosophical scholars in order to interact positively on all kinds of subjects. He would accept the views of other schools gracefully if found them in keeping with the tune of national justice. But at the same time, he would refuse to tone down if the things were not favorable to the greatest good of society, and would shower volley of comments on them.
Kabir, one of the greatest saint poets of medieval India, was born at a crucial point of time when the social structure of the country was completely dismantled due to surging waves of disparity caused by social, political, economic and religious topsyturvydom. Though a number of other saint poets did realize it and tried to set things right by sensitizing people and creating mass awareness among them about the derailment and upset of social set-up through their poetic expressions, they could not deliver much good towards social rectification. It was Kabir who also took up challenge and determined to revolutionize the entire society by his powerful poetic spells to be presented in accompaniment of musical instruments by his followers. He administered the cudgel strongly against those practices which were intentionally perpetuated by the so-called contractors of social cause. He also targeted every such thing which he felt incompatible with peace, prosperity and spirit of social and religious harmony. He did not spare the Hindu and Muslim religious teachers who were always fighting over the petty issues of religions without understanding their proper implications. But whatever was being done by Kabir was in keeping with the saintly cult of altruism which strove for the well being of mankind irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Initially he was disliked by those who were victimized and had to face counter attack but this did not go along way and his opponent gradually withdrew and finally yielded.
The period from 1318 to 1673 is designated as ̳Bhakti Kal’ in Hindi literature. It is the hallmark in the history of Hindi literature as it produced a large number of poets who contributed substantially to the treasures of literature by their outpouring as the dictates of their soul. The artists, who devoted themselves exclusively to purge the society from the spell of ill practices, came to be known as the ‘Saint Poets‘. The word ‘saint‘ signifies the spiritual elevation of the one who goes beyond the human bounds and transcends the knowledge generally experienced by common men. He engages himself to the divine task of searching truth and tries to establish it on earth to save the layman from the illusory truth propagated by self asserted social ignoble activists. Saint poets of ‘Bhakti Kal‘ can be classified into three groups for the convenience of our study. The writers of the first group wrote dispassionately without any projection of ‘God‘ or ‘Image‘ as the fountain of their poetic inspiration. The second group of saint poets followed the cult of Lord Krishna for their devotional songs. The last group based their songs on Ram cult as the one to strengthen their poetic creativity. However, those saint poets, whether Bhakti cult of Krishna or Ram, were primarily concerned with the social issues. Therefore they created awareness among the masses to wrestle against those practices which could not be justified on any grounds. But all of them were not as prominent and fearless as Kabir in voicing their views about the prevailing ignominious behaviors of contemporary society.