Monday, January 07, 2013

Unsung UP VIII: With Kabir in Kashi

Kabir has fascinated me for a long time. I have a shelf full of book 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 was 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 maximum I can do is manage to find the Bijak. Call it a stroke of luck or a student’s wish, Kabir just kept appearing before me at Banaras.

In a rather unplanned way, we landed in Lahar Tara locality of Banaras, where the pond where Kabir was found by his foster parents is located. Today it is a huge pond with lotus flowers blossoming it, just like the way it was when Kabir 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 the 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 few months. I was still focused on getting a Bijak and he pointed us to another Math that was located across the road called Kabir Bagh. This was a simple but a huge Math with many families living inside. The admin incharge was called and he showed us the various works of Kabir published by them, thankfully including the Bijak. The person handling the books was very well spoken and seemed to be studying Kabir on his own. As we spoke to him, we found out that he has studied design and business management from some of the best schools in the world but some life events led him to this humble place that holds Kabir at the center of its being. One of those serendipitous rendezvous…

At Kabir Bagh, we got greedy and expressed our desire to hear the Kabir Panthis sing Kabir poetry and we were pointed to another Math at Kabir Chaura. Now, Kabir 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 till we located this huge math. Here we saw the life of Kabir depicted through models, with him 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 incharge asked us to go behind the building and see the actual place where Kabir lived and where his foster parents Neeru and Nima are buried. It was indeed a small knoll, now of course well maintained, and it was another serendipity, as I had no idea that this math was built at the very place where Kabir lived. We came back to the main building and the incharge spoke about Kabir at length. So many things from Kabir’s poetry came alive as the priest explained the place as it used to be in Kabir’s time and how it featured in his works. Like the lane of butchers that people had to cross to come to listen to Kabir and his Saakhi:

Kabira teri Jhopdi, Galkatiyan ke Paas
Jo karega so bharega, tu kyun bhaya udaas

Roughly translated, 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 and 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 Kabir had stood to gain a Guru.

Through the trip, Kabir kept making appearances in various forms as books, as temple, as pond, as scholar, as follower, as seeker and I almost felt that Kabir was seeking me as much as I was seeking him…

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