Unfortunately, nothing very definite is known about the early life of Kabir, who lived either towards the close of the fourteenth century or at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Kabir made earnest efforts to create a spirit of harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims.
According to tradition, he was the abandoned child of a Brahmin widow. He grew up as the foster child of the weaver Niru and his wife.
He was born at Banaras and was a weaver by Profession. When he grew up, he became the most radical disciple of Ramananda, gave a positive shape to the social philosophy of his illustrious teacher.
Kabir’s teachings are contained in his dohas or couplets, which are sung with devotion throughout India to this day. He preached against caste distinctions, the supremacy of Brahmans, image worship etc. His followers are called Kabir panthis.
Kabir’s teachings are saturated with Hindu thoughts and at the same time display a good deal of the influence of the Sufi saints and poets of his age. His mission was to bridge and gulf between the Hindus and Muslims and so he describes himself as the child of ‘Allah‘ and ‘Rama‘. He says that the Hindus and the Muslims are like “Pots made out of the same clay” and that there is no distinction between Rama and Rahim and between the Puran and the Quran.
He did not attach any importance to the performance of rituals and ceremonies or to pilgrimages to holy places. Temples and other places of worship were not considered important by him. According to Kabir, salvation could be attained by performing good deeds and by means of bhakti or sincere devotion to god.
Kabir condemned not only the rituals and dogmas prevalent in the religious field but also the evils prevalent in society. He denounced the customs like Sati and Pardah and refused to recognise the racial superiority of the Brahmans. He asserted that the Brahmanas and the Shudras were equal and actions not the birth was the very basis of the superiority of a person.
Though he led a religious life, Kabir married, and it is said that the name of his wife was Loi. His son Kamal was both a thinker and a devotee. When, after his father’s death, he was requested to organize a sect in his father’s name, he answered, ‘My father had striven throughout his life against all forms of sectarianism; how can I, his son, destroy his ideal and thereby commit his spiritual murder?’ This remark estranged many of Kabir’s disciples from Kamal.
After Kabir’s death, his Muslim disciples organized themselves in Maghar, where they founded a monastery; his Hindu disciples were organized into an order by Surat Gopala, with their centre in Varanasi.
The verses of Kabir have been compiled in three distinct but overlapping traditions. The Kabir Bijak is associated with the Kabir panthis in Varanasi and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh and the Kabir Granthavali is preserved by the Dadupanthis in Rajasthan. Many of his compositions have been compiled in the Adi Granth Sahib of the Sikhs. It is worth mentioning that almost all the manuscript compilations were made after the death of Kabir. Anthologies of his verses were circulated in print in regions like Bengal, Gujarat and Maharashtra in the 19th century.
Guru Nanak (1469-1538):
Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism and the reviver of the pure monotheistic doctrine of the Upanishads. He was born in a Khatri Vedi family of Talwandi (Nankana) about 25 miles to the South-West of Lahore.
He spent his entire life preaching universal brotherhood, religious tolerance and unity of the godhead.
Like Kabir, he too condemned caste distinctions, idol worship, rituals and ceremonies. According to him, good deeds alone would be counted in god’s court of justice. He conceived of God as Nirakara (formless).
He advised his followers to achieve a state of mind where there would neither be pain nor happiness; and preached that this state could be attained by the constant recitation of the Sat Nam or the Sacred name of God.
Nanak was a revolutionary religious reformer, he proclaimed that there is no distinction between man and man, all were born equal in the eyes of God. He felt that the real cause of the misery of the people was their disunity born of a diversity of belief. He considered education essential for the attainment of a true and complete life, True education helps the soul to unfold itself like a lotus of countless petals.
While advocating the middle path between extreme asceticism and pleasure-seeking, Nanak exhorted his followers to discard hypocrisy, selfishness and falsehood etc. Nanak’s conception of religion was practical and ethical. He condemned the superstition and formalism of Hinduism and Isalm and denounced all forms of vice, corticom and hypocrisy etc. He preached the unity of God and equality of all men and stressed the need of devotion and the help of Guru to guide one in the path of God. He attracted many Muslim followers also. Due to his efforts, the Sikh religion became very popular and is now millions of people follow it. He died in 1538 at Kartarpur.