Jagdish Saheb and I left Damakhera by bus to connect with a train for Varanasi. We travelled in a second-class coach. The trains in India no longer have a third class, but only second class and first class. As usual, the train was crowded. After about twenty hours on the train we arrived at Varanasi at eight pm on February 2nd. We stayed at the Kabir Kirti Mandir that is one of five ashrams under the direction of Mahant Ramswaroop Das of Jamnagar. This ashram is a moderately large pink concrete building with fairly modern facilities for guests. We spent several days here because Varanasi was the place where Satguru Kabir first appeared, and where he gave most of his teachings. Most of the important landmarks in Satguru Kabir‘s life are also around Varanasi.
The following day we visited Kabir Chaura that is only a few blocks away from the Kabir Kirti Mandir. Kabir Chaura is the place where Satguru Kabir lived with his foster parents Niru and Nima, and it is from here that he began to give his lectures starting at the age of ten to twelve years. It was here that Qazis (Muslim priests) were invited by Niru and Nima to name the baby whom they found at the Lahartara Lake. The Qazis consulted the Koran several times and could come up only with the name of Kabir or its variations, all of which were names given to God or to the most great. The Qazis were disturbed by this and felt that the baby was a bad omen, and should be killed. Niru, in fact, took the baby into the jungle to destroy him, but he heard a voice telling him not to destroy the baby, as he will be someone very great when he grew up. The name Kabir was thus given to the baby. He grew up in Varanasi, living in the area now called Kabir Chaura. Satguru Kabir’s early life story is given in many books and will not be repeated here.
It is customary for any person on a spiritual path to have a Guru (spiritual teacher). Since Kabir was not initiated by a guru, he was teased by the youngsters about not having one, he decided to accept Swami Ramanand as his Guru. Swami Ramanand originally came from the south of India to bring to the North the doctrine of Bhakti or devotion. He was a reformist Brahmin, and it is likely for this reason that he (Kabir) chose him as a Guru. But a problem arose, however, because Swami Ramanand did not accept low caste people (or Muslims) as disciples, and Kabir was brought up as Julaha, a weaver. Kabir thus decided on a stratagem to make Swami Ramanand his Guru. Swami Ramanand lived on the bank of the river Ganges, at a place called the Panch Ganga Ghat, and he used to walk down to the river, before dawn, to have a bath. Satguru Kabir went and lay on the steps in the dark. As the Swami walked down the steps he stepped on Kabir who cried out, and Swami Ramanand, taken by surprise, shouted “Ram Ram.” Kabir upon hearing the name “Ram Ram” accepted it as his Guru Mantra, and thus became a disciple of Swami Ramanand. Kabir felt that “Ram” was the name attributed to God, saying that no mantra can be greater than the name of God. Satguru Kabir later had to remind Swami Ramanand that he was a disciple because the latter did not recall making Kabir a disciple. Kabir thus related the incident on the Ghats, and Swami Ramanand remembered that he stepped on a baby, therefore it could not be the same person. Satguru Kabir then assumed the form of a baby and Swami Ramanand, in astonishment, accepted Kabir as his disciple.
Kabir Chaura was thus the first ashram of the Kabir Panth faith. It was founded by a direct disciple of Satguru Kabir whose name was Sruti Gopal Das. This is now a holy place and followers of Satguru Kabir who visit Varanasi usually visit Kabir Chaura to pay their respects. Kabir Chaura, however, is not a traditional place of pilgrimage as Satguru Kabir himself taught that pilgrimage to any place is not necessary for spiritual growth. Despite this, people do visit because of their interest.