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Continued From Part I
Not much historical data is available about the time or place of Kabir's birth or about his parents. So we rely on the strong traditions of the Kabirpanthis. According to Ramananda Digvijaya, Kabir was born of a celestial being who abandoned the child on a lotus leaf in a lake at Lahartara near Kashi (present Varanasi). According to another tradition, Kabir's father was a Sannyasin named Swami Ashtananda and his mother was a celestial being named Pratichi.
Prahlada, the famous devotee of Narayana, was himself born to them as Kabir. A third tradition says that Swami Ramananda blessed a Brahmin virgin, unawares, saying, 'Putravati bhava, Be you the mother of a son' (a usual blessing, of course). When the virgin gave birth to the child, she left him for obvious reasons, near the Lahartara lake as mentioned earlier.
Niru (or Nuri, according to some others) and Neema were a pious weaver couple belonging to the Julaha caste and living in Kashi. They found the child Kabir at Lahartara Lake and took him home. Naturally there was some commotion in the community. Some women taunted Neema saying, 'How did you get this baby?' Neema silenced them by her firm but disarmingly honest reply, 'I got him without giving birth to him!'
The Julaha caste had its origin from Nath Yogis and from the 'Jogi' caste, both connected with Islamic traditions. Hence the parents called in a Muslim Kazi (Judge) for naming the child. He opened the Koran at random, with the intention of giving the child the, first name that would come up. And lo! It was 'Kabir', which meant 'Great' and which referred to Allah! How could this name he given to this insignificant Julaha boy? The Kazi once again opened the Koran, to find this time 'Akbar', a synonym of Kabir! The more he opened the book the more he got the other synonyms: Kubra, Kibriya, Zinda, Khijwar, Pir, Haqqa, and so on. At this point, the baby Kabir opened his lisping lips to utter an oracle, a 'Shabda':
I was not born of a woman but manifested as a boy. My dwelling place was near Kashi. A weaver found me there. I am wisdom personified. I have come in a spiritual form and my name is of great significance. These are the words of Kabir, the Indestructible.
The Kazi was stunned and unhesitatingly named the child 'Kabir'.
Kabir was a precocious boy. Even at that tender age, he was seen to have an intense love for the name of God, both of Islam and of Hinduism. He called Him sometimes Allah, sometimes Rama. He would wear a sacred thread, a be Hindu. If his Brahmin friends objected, he would retort, 'I am a weaver, dealing in threads. If I wear a thread, what is that to you?'
With all the love for his foster child, Niru could not send him to any school because of his social handicap and poverty. A Julaha boy was welcome neither in the Muslim Madrasa nor in the Hindu Pathsala. Hence Kabir learnt the hereditary craft, weaving, and of course the marketing of the produce.
Kabir was very austere in his food and dress. He spent much of his time in prayer and contemplation. Feeding and serving holy men was one of his favourite pastimes. His mother sometimes felt anxious about Kabir's future. He would smilingly tell her: 'Ammi Jan (Mother dear), would God, who protects all his other creatures, forget only us?' Thus Japa, prayer and contemplation became the whole and sole education of Kabir about which he said later:
Laying studies aside, into a stream the books Kabir threw
Out of alphabets fifty-two,
he memorized Ra, Ma — only two!
He proudly proclaimed: 'I did not touch ink or paper; nor did I ever hold a pen in hand!'
To be continued
About the author
Swami Gautamananda Maharaj is the President of Ramakrishna Math Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India