KABĪRPANTHĪS, followers of Kabīr (1398-1448), a saint and reformer some of whose compositions have been included in Sikh Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Kabīr did not found any sect during his own lifetime; it was after his death that a maṭh, called Kabīr Chaurā, was established by Sūrat Gopāl, said to be the first missionary of the Kabīrpanth, at Vārāṇasī which had been Kabīr's seat for many years. His object was to propagate the teachings of his mentor. This maṭh, known as bāp (father), with a branch establishment at Magahar, covered the states of the Punjab, Gujarāt, Uttar Pradesh and Bihār. Another centre, established almost contemporaneously, was in Dhām Kheṛā, in the Chhatīsgaṛh district of Madhya Pradesh. This maṭh, known as māī (mother), was founded by Dharam Dās and, with branches at Rāipur, Bilāspur and Chhindwāṛā, it served to spread the message of Kabīr and gained adherents in central India.
A person freshly recruited must renounce polytheism and avow belief in One God. He must vow never to eat meat or drink wine. He must bathe daily and sing hymns to God, morning and evening. He is adjured to forgive up to three times those who trespass against him; to avoid company of all women of bad character and never to turn away from his house his lawful wife; never to tell lies; never to usurp the property of another man; never to bear false witness or speak ill of others on hearsay evidence. At the initiation ceremony, the candidate makes the required promise in the presence of the gurū.
For Kabīrpanthīs, Bījak, a collection of Kabīr's hymns, is the scripture. The Hindus among them recite the name of Rām whereas the Muslims that of Khudā. All of them greet each other with "Bandāgī" (salutation to you) when they meet. The common people receive guidance from a mahant (celebrant) who presides over a centre. He wears a conical cap, a necklace (kaṇṭhī, a rosary of tulsī (sweet basil) and brick-coloured or white garments. Frontal mark, if borne, is usually of the Vaiṣṇavite type, or he makes a streak with sandal or gopīchandan along the ridge of the nose. Marriage is not forbidden, though some of the mahants remain celibate.
B. S. Nijjar