27 Jan 2013 | By VBRAWAT
As the ‘Humanise India’ journey started from Kabirchaura, there were some uncomfortable questions which we so far have often ignored and sidelined. The stories that we had heard in our childhood and still promoted are that when Kabir died there was a big dispute between the Hindus and Muslims on his ‘religious’ identity. The Muslims wanted to bury him and the Hindus wanted to cremate him. This is the supreme irony that we are told that when the issue did not resolve, Kabir’s body turned to flowers, which both the Hindus and Muslims divided among them and cremated according to their beliefs.
“Is it possible that a body changes to flowers after death,” asks the Muttawali of the ‘Mazar’of Kabir at Magahar?
While ‘secularists’ may like to present the picture of the Kabir Samadhi Sthal at Magahar as a complete photo-op of pluralism and cultural syncretism in India where Mosque and temple stand together in absolute harmony, the things are not as simple as they are being made out. A contrast is visible when you visit the ‘Hindu Samadhi’ of Kabir and compare it with the ‘Mazar’ adjacent to it. The latter is suffering in the absence of support from the government and others. In fact, the ArcheologicalSurvey of India had demolished a large portion of it but the discrimination between the two is perfect and absolute.
One of my curiosities about Kabir has been about his birth and acceptability among his people. I go to Muttawali Shabir Hussein who is quietly sitting in front of the place where according to him Kabir was buried. He claims to belong to a family where Kabir had stayed and his forefathers served his Mazar with great devotion. Shabir Hussein is a disappointed person today. “We talk of secularism, Hindu Muslim brotherhood but where is it? Why are people not giving this place their due?” He knows that every year there are so many festivities and huge funds come for the celebration of Kabir Mahotsav but not a single penny is spent on developing the mosque.
The Kabir math has Hindu literature and all his ‘Dohas’ are there but at the Mazar of Kabir, not a single sentence or preaching of Kabir is written. A few things are mentioned in Arabic and I ask Shabir Hussein as to what he thinks about the whole process and deification of Kabir now.
His only concern is that the government and people have not respected him despite the fact Kabir was buried at the place he sits. He had devoted his life and his father too had for the service of ‘Sahib’. Your complaint may be true with Hindus but why don’t Muslims come here and respect Kabir, I ask? “Muslims believe in ‘tawarikh’ and the Hindus have so much distorted things about Kabir that no Muslim is ready to accept him,” he says.
“How can a Muslim accept a person whose ‘parents’ are not known. Sometimes, it is said that he was born to a Brahmin widow… at others something else. When history is distorted, there is no chance of acceptability of a person in the community and hence Kabir seems to have become victim of this. He spoke against superstition and supreme irony is that he has been made a miracle man today.”
(One of the mythical depictions of Kabir’s birth; Courtesy: www.kabirsahib.jagatgururampalji.org)
The mosque adjacent to the Samadhisthal does not portray anything of Kabir as according to the Muttawali Shabir Hussein, Kabir was not a social reformer but a ‘Wali’. He does not want to remember Kabir as a social reformer. “How could he write so many things when he was illiterate,” asked the Muttawali. And he has his own arguments when I said how he felt about Kabir saying, “Kankar pathar jori ke masjid layi banay, taa chadhi mullah bang de kya bahro huo khuday.”
Shabir is unimpressed with this and asks if he indeed said this. “Are the temples not made of kankar and pathar?” but I countered him about the noise that the mullahs make. Shabir Hussein feels that all this was created later and is actually distorted version of things in the name of Kabir. He reiterates his views that kabir was a great ‘wali’ and ‘elderly’ man who has miraculous powers.
While I agreed to many things that Shabir Hussein said, I felt he is sandwiched between the Hindu secularists and his own community. The Muslims are not ready to accept the reformist Kabir at all apart from his issues related to ‘birth’ and ‘khari khari’. I told Shabir Hussein that it would have been great to see Muslims coming to Kabir but that is not happening. He was a Julaha, a weaver and born in that community and spoke against social evil but the community has not accepted him as he did not harp on that identity.
Is it important for Muslims to know about the identity of a person to respect or revere them? Why have Muslims not owned him even if Kabir talked about universal brotherhood and was against all forms of discrimination? It is also true that with the Deobandi ideology growing among the Islamic sects, the idea of Mazar is being presented as non-Islamic and hence it is the struggle of being ‘pragmatist’ as well as being part of Islam? This internal dynamism has forced him not to make Kabir as a reformer but as a ‘wali’ which not acceptable to everybody.
It is true that Kabir’s Hinduisation process is complete at the moment. The statue of Kabir that former chief minister Ms Mayawati inaugurated is decorated with a white ‘tikka’ on his forehead. Now various statues of Kabir have moar pankh (peacock feather) on his forehead like Krishna. In the Hindu Kabir Sthal there are numerous quotes and literature being added. Kabir Mahotsava is being organized every year. Of course, the Hindus can be blamed for being selective and denying Kabir his identity in relations to Muslims.
(Saint Kabir depicted with a peacock feather; Courtesy: www.artoflegendindia.com)
Now, claims are also being made that he was a Buddhist as many of his preaching are quite close to Buddha’s ideals of nonviolence and international brotherhood. The Kabir’s mazar is languishing because of neglect both from the Muslims-Hindus as well as secularists who mythicize his death into a ‘secular miracle’.
It is ironical that in today’s conflicting times when we have hatred all around and when we should have respected Kabir’s preachings and bold sayings, his ‘claimants’ want to convert him to mythological figure and make money out of him.
It is meaningless to label him as a Wali and not a social reformer. Shabir Hussein deserves listening but he also needs to change his mind-set to bring Muslims to great ideals of Kabir. You cannot disown a person just because you do not know his whereabouts.
We respect Kabir not because he was a Hindu or a Muslim but a human being who preached love and affection and had the courage to speak against all forms of oppression without any hesitation. It needs a lot of courage and conviction to be so, and Kabir is India’s shining example of humanist heritage and it is our duty to revive his great legacy and take it to the people.
Muslims, Hindus, secularists, atheists, humanists – all will gain from understanding Kabir who was hated by the fundamentalists of all kinds but none could not challenge his authority as he remained down to earth, closely associated with the masses.
Such legendary icons cannot be confined to the narrow confines of their birth-based identities. Humanity gains from their knowledge and work. It is sad that we are still dividing Kabir on those narrow lines which he opposed though out his life and relating him to myths and miracles against which he stood tall. It is time that people of India own Kabir and follow his high traditions of mutual love and rejection of extremists ideologies.
(Saint Kabir depicted like a Hindu deity; Courtesy: my.yoga-vidya.org)