Kabirpanthis

Doctrines Kabirpanthis are the followers of Kabir and his teachings. Kabir lived in the fifteenth century CE and was pre-eminent among the Sants or poet-saints. Kabir attempted to transcend the religious boundaries of northern India and to promote harmony between Hinduism, Islam, and other non-Hindu religions. In this he was a forerunner of Ramakrishna and Gandhi. His eclectic faith focused on bhakti, devotion to God. Kabir was a master of the "interior religion," which was loving surrender to God who dwelt in the heart. Names of God tend to be Vaishnava, for Kabir's guru was Ramananda. But though Kabir often mentions Ram, Hari, and the "name of Ram," he is using these as names for the all-pervading Reality which is beyond words and "beyond the beyond," being identified with sunya, the void, or what Kabir calls sahaj, the ineffable state. The satguru, the perfect guru, is to Kabir not Ramananda but the deity who speaks within the soul.
The most important doctrine of Kabir is Sabda, the Word. In Vaishnava teaching Sabda includes both divine inspiration and the word of the teacher. Kabir's teaching was purely oral, with nothing committed to writing. The Kabirvanis, the words of Kabir, were written after his life and the oldest dated written record is found in the Guru Granth of the Sikhs, compiled about 1604. There are two other undated versions of the Kabirvanis, one compiled by the Dadupanthis of Rajasthan about 1600 and called the Kabir Granthavali, and the Bijak, a version popularised if not compiled by the Kabirpanthis in Bihar.
The Sant religion was a religion of the heart, open to all. Many Sants were women and Kabir himself was a sudra, the lowest caste. Kabir rejected the externals of religion such as Muslim prayer and the Hajj, and Hindu image worship and pilgrimage. He deliberately chose not to die in Benares, his own city. Kabir attacked brahmans and yogins, seeing no virtue in asceticism, fasting, and almsgiving, and he despised the six schools of Hindu philosophy. He acknowledged no caste distinctions.
Despite Kabir's opposition to sectarianism, after his death a sect was formed of his disciples and followers. The modern Kabirpanthis regard themselves as Hindu. Kabir himself is generally thought of as a Hindu. As with all religious movements, doctrine and practice has not kept to the ideals of the original teacher. There is some observance of caste and an elaborate ritual for initiation.

History The Kabirpanthis believe that Kabir was an incarnation having a miraculous birth. A weaver's wife, Nima, found him as an infant floating on a lotus in a tank near Benares. She and her husband, Niru, brought Kabir up as their child. Other legends tell of Kabir's wife, Loi, son, Kamal, and daughter, Kamaliya, all having miraculous births. Niru and Nima were of the Julaha, a low caste of Muslim weavers, and Kabir worked as a weaver near Benares all his life. The Julaha were probably recent converts to Islam and it is not certain that Kabir was circumcised. To him the Muslims were "Turks."
Kabir's preaching appealed to common sense and was in ironical and incisive language and this caused the enmity of the Hindu and Muslim religious authorities. In the legendary biography of Kabir there is an account of his persecution by the Muslim ruler Sikander Lodi, though eventually Kabir was reconciled to him. The brahmans attacked him for associating with a woman of ill-fame and with Rae Das, a religious teacher who was a Chamar, leather-worker.
Kabir (c. 1440-1518) holds a place of great importance in the religious history of India. He was almost certainly the disciple of Ramananda (see Ramavats), a Vaishnava bhakti teacher. There is a story of how a lowly Muslim weaver contrived to become a disciple of Ramananda. Early one morning Kabir lay down on the ghat by the Ganges at which Ramananda bathed, and on his way there he trampled on Kabir, calling out "Rama, Rama ! What poor creature is it that I have trampled upon ?" Kabir considered the "Rama, Rama !" as a mantra of being initiated as a disciple. Though Ramananda forgot this, after Kabir had claimed to people that he was a disciple, he called for Kabir and, remembering the incident at the ghat, clasped Kabir to his breast. Kabir's teaching was the first important introduction of Vaishnava bhakti in northern India, and he was the first teacher to appeal to both Hindus and Muslims. His teaching was also one of the main sources used by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The eloquence of Kabir was of such power that his "words" spread like fire across northern India from the Punjab and Rajasthan to Bihar.
There is a famous legend about the death of Kabir. He died at Maghar near Gorakhpur and there was a dispute between his Hindu and Muslim followers. The Hindus wanted to cremate him and the Muslims wanted to bury him. While they argued Kabir appeared and told them to lift the cloth over his corpse. The body had vanished and a heap of flowers were there instead. The Muslims took half and buried them at Maghar and built a tomb over the spot. The Hindus took their half to Benares and cremated the flowers at a place now known as Kabir Chaura, which is the name of one branch of Kabirpanthis.
The most authoritative version of the Kabirvanis was the Bijak, compiled by Bhago Das, an immediate disciple of Kabir. Bijak means literally invoice or account book. Other successors of Kabir wrote hymns, odes, and doctrinal poems which are mostly still in manuscript form at Kabir Chaura.
Kabir was opposed to sectarianism and after his death when the Kabirpanthis developed into a sect, his son Kamal is traditionally said to have refused to lead them. Within a hundred years of Kabir's death, tradition says the sect divided into twelve subsects. One of these may have been the Udasis. Today only two of the subsects survive, the Kabir Chaura and the Dharmadasis. Dharm Das established his group at Chattisgarh. He was a bania, merchant caste, and was traditionally rebuked by Kabir for image-worship.

Symbols Though Kabir was strongly opposed to all the outer mechanical aspects of religion, he used several Vaishnava names of God symbolically to describe the all-pervading Reality.
The Kabirpanthis, though still maintaining monotheism and being opposed to image-worship, have reverted to some practice of ritualism. And though Kabir rejected caste, they now practice some exclusiveness. To Kabir the only guru was the satguru, but the Kabirpanthis take the greatest care in selecting a guru, who must be obeyed throughout life.
Members wear a rosary of beads made from tulsi wood, which is sacred to Vishnu. A woman can wear this after marriage. Those of twice-born castes wear the janeo, the sacred thread of Hinduism. There is an elaborate ceremony of initiation. Water is used to wash the feet of the Mahant, the master. On a betel leaf the secret name of God is inscribed with dew and is called the parwana,passport, which represents the body of Kabir. The dew is collected in a vessel known as amar and is water derived directly from heaven. A secret mantra, sacred utterance, is an important part of the ceremony. The Dharmadasis use several mantras and their ceremonies of initiation vary in certain details. The ceremonies are ministered by a Mahant. The Mahants receive authority from the Head Mahant, who is the representative of Kabir.
Mahants have as symbols of authority a red topi, a necklace of black wool called seli, and a special rosary known as the Panch Mal. Upon appointment they make an offering of coconuts, which have a particular symbolic meaning for the Kabirpanthis. The coconut has a face resembling a man, its surface is in three parts symbolising Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, its flesh forms gradually like human flesh, and it differs from other fruits in containing no seed. The breaking of the coconut is a bloodless sacrifice, a peace offering to Niranjan (meaning "void of passions," a title of God given by the Kabirpanthis) to obtain entry to heaven for Kabirpanthis. The water in which the feet of the Head Mahant is washed becomes Charan Mitra, the amrita (nectar of the gods) of the feet. It is mixed with fine earth, made into pills, and swallowed or pounded up and mixed with water and drunk.
The Kabir Chaura Math is on the site where Kabir traditionally gave instructions to his disciples. The Math or monastery contains the Khanraon, a pair of wooden sandals representing the feet of Kabir, and the Gaddi, the pillow of Kabir. Pictures of Kabir, Ramananda, and Mahants are on the walls of the Math. Above the pictures are designs in coloured cloth symbolising the five elements and the nine doors of the human body.

Adherents The 1901 Census returned 843,171 Kabirpanthis. Today there are still large numbers of Kabirpanthis centred in Benares and extending west to Gujerat and east to Bihar. Members are mainly lower-caste Hindus with merchant castes playing an important part, especially among the Dharmadasis.
The tradition of the Sants is very influential through bhajans, devotional songs, which have huge appeal in India and among Hindu communities overseas.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 The Kabir Chaura is based in Benares with a branch at Maghar. The headquarters of the Dharmadasis is the Chattisgarh district of northern India. The Muslim Kabirpanthis have Maghar as their headquarters.