[I wrote this article when I visited India for the first time in 1985 to attend a conference on Law and Medicine held at the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi. Events and other references would relate to 1985]
India is a large and developing country. It has a population of approximately 750 million (now 1.3 b). About 80% of India’s population lives in the rural areas and the rest in the cities. The population of India is increasing by about 15 million every year. India is often thought of as a land of extremes. There are extremely rich people and extremely poor people; highly educated and very illiterate people; extreme cold in some areas of the north and extreme heat such as 40-45 degrees Celsius in the monsoon season; some places are extremely clean, and there are other places where there is dust and dirt everywhere. Cows are protected by the constitution of India, and so they are free to roam all over the cities, and traffic has to go around them if they are sitting in the middle of the road. India is self-sufficient in food, and I did not see any shortage anywhere. In fact there are plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains everywhere. India even exports grains to other countries. This is the India in which Satguru Kabir came to give his teachings.
I spent six weeks in India travelling to various parts, but chiefly to the areas that are closely connected with Satguru Kabir. I left Canada on January 19th and because India is thirteen and a half hours ahead of Vancouver’s time, I arrived there on the 21st. I travelled by Air India from Toronto to Bombay, and the following day by Indian Airlines from Bombay to Jamnagar, Gujarat. At the Jamnagar airport I was met by Mahant Ramswaroop Das and Jagdish Das Shastri. It was nice to meet Mahant Saheb again as I had met him a few years previously when he was in Vancouver, and he stayed at my home. Mahant Saheb is very humble and kind and he makes you feel as if he cannot do enough for you. He has established a very beautiful Ashram in Jamnagar. The whole Ashram is built on a rectangular fashion enclosing a large central courtyard. There are two floors all around and rooms for guests to stay, for offices and for other functions. The temple of Satguru Kabir is white painted concrete, and His form is carved on the outside of the temple along with that of other Mahants. The floor is made of marble, and workmen have just been finishing the polishing. The outside walls of the building have various sakhis (testimonies) of Satguru Kabir inscribed on them. On the inside of the temple – the inner walls have carvings, in the concrete, of the whole life story of Satguru Kabir. It is beautifully painted and is a pleasure to behold.
It was very fortunate for me that Jagdish Saheb was on hand, as he could speak English and he travelled with me to the other parts of India. He was able to show me the important places and their significance in the life of Satguru Kabir. Jagdish Saheb is a lawyer and he holds a B.A. L.L.B., and Shastri degrees, and so he is quite learned. I have had long discussions with him about various topics in philosophy and in the teachings of Sat Guru Kabir. He is quite knowledgeable in the teachings and philosophy of Satguru Kabir and he would make an ideal teacher for people in the western countries.
I stayed in Jamnagar for three days and left on January 24th accompanied by Jagdish Saheb. Our destination was Kharsia to attend a function. We travelled by train for fifty-four hours. Fortunately, we had bunks to sleep on. Kharsia is a small town of about fifteen to twenty thousand people and I understand that most of them are followers of Satguru Kabir. Kharsia is the head quarters of one of the main branches of Kabir Panth. The Kharsia Ashram is fairly large and built around a central courtyard. There are rooms all around for disciples. Hazur Saheb lives on a second floor room, and Dharamadhikari Saheb (assistant to Hazur) also has a room on this floor. This ashram is the head of other ashrams that are run by monks. These monks are all trained and hold Shastri degrees. However, the organization allows independence to other ashrams run by different Mahants.
When we arrived at the Ashram, the three-day function, sponsored by Hazur Saheb, was in progress. The whole program was in Hindi, and I enjoyed being present in it. I met many sadhus there. Many of them were fairly young and educated. I was allowed to give talks in English and Jagdish Saheb translated them into Hindi. They were happy to hear me speak, as I represented Canada which was so far away.
There was a good attendance for each of the sessions, morning, afternoon and night. The attendance was between two thousand to three thousand people at each session. Everyone was served lunch and dinner every day. At mealtime they were fed quite quickly, all eating at the same time. On the third day of the congregation there was a chowka ceremony performed by Hazur Saheb. The chowka (religious ceremony of dedicating oneself to God, Satguru Kabir and other gurus) was well attended and many people took part in it. Some were initiated by Hazoor Saheb into the faith. The ceremony was very colourful and instructive. There was also a procession through the streets of Kharsia. There were banners and slogans upholding the Kabir Panth faith, and encouraging people to be vegetarians, and to give up smoking, gambling, etc. I was asked to give a talk at four different points during the procession, and Jagdish Saheb translated into Hindi. I learned afterwards that the people appreciated what I had to say.
I stayed four days at Kharsia with Hazur Udit Nam Saheb. He lives a very disciplined, simple and humble life. He practices yoga postures daily and at the age of eighty his body is very flexible. Dharamadhikari also lives a simple and humble life, and he is very friendly and humorous. I enjoyed spending time with both of them. I had the opportunity to speak to both Hazur Saheb and Dharamadhikari Saheb (Manohar Das), and asked them many questions relating to the Kabir Panth and the teachings of Satguru Kabir.