Who is an Avadhuta (अवधूत)?

The word Avadhuta – अवधूत comes quite often in Kabir’s Nirguni Bhajans. In fact, most of the Nirguni Bhajans are addressed to Avadhuta, like this one :

युगन युगन हम योगी
अवधूता, युगन युगन हम योगी
आवे ना जाये मिटे ना कबहुं
शब्द अनाहत भोगी
अवधूता, युगन युगन हम योगी ||

Over the years, the biggest obstacle in making sense out of Kabir’s mysterious language was the very subject of it – Avadhuta. I could intuitively sense that an Avadhuta would be some sort of a seeker; someone who is walking on a chosen path. As I read more about Kabir and poked a little deeper in his words, some revelations took place. For instance, whenever a Nirguni Bhajan is addressed to Avadhuta, it has contradictions in it. A nice example of this is Avadhuta, Kudrat Ki Gat Nyari. This Bhajan is full of paradoxes like a king begging on street, a fisher hunting in the jungle or a dumb person displaying extraordinary knowledge.

The Bhajan which I mentioned right at the beginning – Yugan Yugan Ham Yogi, also has some paradoxes in it – हम सब माय, सब है हम माय, हम है बहुरि अकेला (I am in everyone, everyone is within me and yet, I am alone).

Here is the third Avadhuta Bhajan which puzzled me and fascinated me :

सो योगी गुरु मेरा अवधू , जो या पद को करे निबेरा

पैर बिन निरति, करौ बिन बाजे, जिभ्या हीना गावैं

(Avadhuta, my Guru is the one who can answer this riddle : Who can walk without legs, clap without using the hands and sing without a tongue? )

The Bhajan goes on and on with riddles and puzzles like this.

Kabir has addressed Avadhuta in a large number of his works and hence, better understanding of the term Avadhuta is essential to fully understand his works.

If one has studied basic Sanskrit, the word Avadhuta means the one who is’ shaken’. If we refer to a Sanskrit dictionary, the word अवधूत has a range of meanings – from the one who is insulted and despised to the one who has embraced the life of an ascetic. In its essence, the word means the one who has shaken off his duties and responsibilities.

As it is true with all words, certain words are far more nuanced than their mere dictionary meanings. Avadhuta is definitely one such word. It is equally important to understand that certain words are interwoven with certain paths, sects or traditions. Word Avadhuta is connected with Nath Parampara. Kabir had close connections with the Nath Vichar and hence, the term Avadhuta finds the continuance in his works. सिद्ध सिद्धांत पद्धति (Siddha Siddhant Paddhati) is probably the oldest text about Nath Parampara which is said to be a compilation of teachings of Macchindranath and Gorakhnath. This text has a full chapter on Avadhuta and defines ‘Avadhuta’ in details.

The third line from the above photo says – the one who has washed off his Vikaras born out of the Prakriti is an Avadhuta. The text goes on further describing how an Avadhuta behaves.

The one who has cut the bonds of sorrow and the one who is free of all the ‘states’ is an Avadhuta.

The text sort of put an Avadhuta ‘above’ everything – the rules of society or eventhe rules of spirituality or spiritual practices. An Avadhuta is described as one who can follow or break the law as and when he wishes. He has the liberty of acting like a ‘pishachh’ or a ‘deva’ as per his wish.

The text also associates an Avadhuta with certain Lakshanas or features – torn ears (an indication of a Nath Yogi), possessing a Khappar (mud pot) etc. Avadhuta, the one who stands for freedom is himself bound by the so called ‘karmakanda’ or meaningless rituals.

It is important to note that whenever Kabir refers to Avadhuta in his works, he is not worshiping or even expressing his reverence; rather he is challenging the Avadhuta. He is throwing puzzles and riddles to confuse them. Probably he is trying to tell them that just renouncing the structure of society does not free one from the structure of mind itself. Wearing robes of a Nath Yogi does not mean one has found or is likely to find anything meaningful. He often also hints that there is much more beyond what can be achieved by renunciation and following dead practices.

Kabir was certainly influenced by the Nath Vichar but at the same time, like he opposed to the malpractices in other religions, he also poked these Avadhutas and reminded them that the the only thing worth attaining in the life love!






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