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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Kabir is a perfect embodiment of the Dalit reaction to India’s religious divide

The universality of Kabir lies in his acceptance by each and rejection by the same creed. Where does Kabir then lie? It is in the untouched, disrespected, humiliated bodies of the lowest considered beings.

Written by Suraj Yengde |
Updated: May 30, 2021 7:50:07 am
Kabir is a pantheon of the great ancestors who did not hesitate to fight back

Kabir is universal. He is a state of the liberated mind which is pure and natural. Kabir demands everyone to be a part of everyone. For him nobody is untouchable. How can anyone remain untouched when the touch of two creates the universe?

Kabir doesn’t want to tolerate stupidity of pride and fakeness of religiosity. “Son of a slut! There: I’ve insulted you. Think about getting on the good road (Shabd 102).” If you are willing to go through his charter, you better have a thick skin.

The universality of Kabir lies in his acceptance by each and rejection by the same creed. Where does Kabir then lie? It is in the untouched, disrespected, humiliated bodies of the lowest considered beings. It is the fully satisfied beings who vouch for Kabir’s message. They become his descendants and bequeath his inheritance to the next generation.

Kabir is a pantheon of the great ancestors who did not hesitate to fight back. It is his fighting spirit that brings to attention the alacrity of Dalit humanism. Kabir’s contested caste status is probably his most charismatic response. During his lifetime, Kabir received attention and love but also scorn and hatred. Neither the established gentry nor the quotidian section was willing to embrace his whole self. However, after his death, these same deniers jumped to claim his legacy. Kabir’s followers were demanding accountability from the merchants of faith. To assimilate that critical reason, Kabir became revered in those houses who were willing to burn him in the first place.

Kabir can be a Hindu, Muslim, Julaha (weaver), Brahmin, Sikh and a good God himself. But Kabir cannot be a refuge for your ego. He displaces the yogis and munis whose status is meant to be that of a self-less mendicant, humbling himself to the lowest of the low, and yet they talk about their higher caste status.

Kabir mocks the janeu-sporting Brahmins. For him, the age of such a phony Brahmin is the dawn of Kaliyuga. Kabir is equally disdainful of rigid Muslims.

He is a perfect embodiment of the Dalit reaction to India’s religious divide. Kabir is democratic but not a meek follower devouring Bhakti of a figure to despise and hate someone because they are told to do so. Kabir urges you to be a follower of Ram, chant Ram. Ram is not the violent king or the mythical character. It is a transient sense of being. Ram is many. That is why his followers are many.

Ram is not known to anyone in his true form. His interpretations and greatness are so vast that each tradition claims his legacy. Ram is a Lalla, Ram is Yugpurush, Ram is Maryadapurushottam, Ram is protector, Ram is Kshatriya, Ram is Brahman, Ram is ascetic, Ram is banished, Ram is everyone’s. How and when does then Ram suddenly become someone’s individuated insecurity?

Kabir is an ancestral heritage for the Dalit community in Central and North India. Kabir is in tune with Ravidas, his contemporary, both of whom did not shy away from proposing a civic rearrangement on equality and egalitarianism. Like Ravidas, Kabir’s speech is evocative and disturbing.

Rabindranath Tagore attempted one of the first translations of the greatest Indian poet’s ideas. Linda Hess, Sukhdev Singh took it further. However, there is still a huge university of education left to take place to understand Kabir’s essence.

This column first appeared in the print edition on May 30, 2021, under the title ‘Kabir is universal: Accepted by all, rejected by same creed’. Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column

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