Kabir has fascinated me for a long time. I have a shelf full of books on his works. Yet I did not have the original Bijak in Hindi and I wanted it. This year I studied him in a little-structured way as part of a study group. That gave me a little insight into his world, his philosophy, and his Nirguna approach to spirituality.
Since he was found or born in Banaras and lived primarily there, he was one of the reasons that I desperately wanted to go there. When I was sitting and planning all the things I wanted to do in Banaras in 4-5 days, I figured out that the maximum I can do is manage to find the Bijak. Call it a stroke of luck or a student’s wish, he just kept appearing before me at Banaras.
Kabir – The Poet & Saint
In a rather unplanned way, we landed in Lahar Tara locality of Banaras, the pond where the poet was found by his foster parents is located. Today it is a huge pond with lotus flowers blossoming in it, just like the way it was when he was found here. We were then pointed to a huge temple that stands close to the pond.
I was surprised to see such a grand place dedicated to a person who lived in a hut. And worked as a weaver for a living and above all, all his life spoke against organized religion. We went inside to see a rather plain but huge hall that is used to organize Satsangs and other functions. The priest was praying with a rosary in his hand and told us that he comes from Mumbai to be here to manage the temple every year for a few months. I was still focused on getting a Bijak and he pointed us to another Math that was located across the road called Bagh.
This was a simple but huge Math with many families living inside. The admin in charge was called and he showed us the various works of the poet published by them, thankfully including the Bijak. The person handling the books was very well-spoken and seemed to be studying the poet on his own. As we spoke to him, we found out that he has studied design and business management at some of the best schools in the world. But some life events led him to this humble place that holds the poet at the center of its being. One of those serendipitous rendezvous…
At the Bagh, we got greedy and expressed our desire to hear the poet’s Panthis sing poetry. We were pointed to another Math at the Chaura named after him. Now, his Chaura is a famous locality in Banaras but not many people knew about this Math. We went to a landmark and then kept asking the way until we located this huge math.
Here we saw the life of the poet depicted through models. Kabir sitting on the potter’s wheel or weaving the cloth while he spoke his philosophy to his followers. His poetry is written on the walls of this place. The in-charge asked us to go behind the building and see the actual place where he lived and where his foster parents Neeru and Nima are buried. It was indeed a small knoll, now of course well maintained. It was another serendipity, as I had no idea that this math was built at the very place where he lived. We came back to the main building and the in-charge spoke about Kabir at length.
So many things from his poetry came alive as the priest explained the place as it used to be in his time. And how it is featured in his works. Like the lane of butchers that people had to cross to come to listen to him and his Saakhi:
“Kabira teri Jhopdi, Galkatiyan ke Paas
Jo karega so bharega, tu kyun bhaya udaas”
“Your hut is located near the butchers, but why do you get sad? The one who kills will bear the brunt, not you”
We missed out on the singing though as the people who sing had gone out that day to perform elsewhere.
Last day in Banaras we were walking from Dashashwamedh ghat to Trilochan ghat. We stopped at Panchganga ghat to discover that this was the very place where Kabir had lied down on the stairs to trap his Guru Ramananda to accept him as his disciple. As I stood there, it was a strange gush of energy that went through me as I realized that my feet are on the very stairs where he had stood to gain a Guru.
Through the trip, the poet kept making appearances in various forms like books, a temple, a pond, a scholar, a follower, and a seeker. I almost felt that he was seeking me as much as I was seeking him…
Recommend you read the following travel blog posts on places to visit in Banaras.