I arrived Benaras in the morning. I had decided to put up with a panda. Numerous Brahmans surrounded me, as soon as I got out of the train, and I selected one who struck me to be comparatively cleaner and better than the rest. It proved to be a good choice. There was a cow in the courtyard of his house and an upper storey where I was given a lodging. I did not want to have any food without ablution in the Ganges in the proper orthodox manner. The panda made preparations for it. I had told him beforehand that on no account could I give him more than a rupee and four annas as dakshina, and that he should therefore keep this in mind while making the preparations.
The panda readily assented. ‘Be the pilgrim rich or poor,’ said he, ‘the service is the same in every case. But the amount of dakshina we receive depends upon the will and the ability of the pilgrim.’ I did not find that the panda at all abridged the usual formalities in my case. The puja was over at twelve o’clock, and I went to the Kashi Vishvanath temple for darshan. I was deeply pained by what I saw there. When practising as a barrister in Bombay in 1891, I had occasion to attend a lecture on ‘Pilgrimage to Kashi’ in the Prarthana Samaj hall. I was therefore prepared for some measure of disappointment. But the actual disappointment was greater than I had bargained for.
The approach was through a narrow and slippery lane. Quiet there was none. The swarming flies and the noise made by the shopkeepers and pilgrims were perfectly insufferable.
Where one expected an atmosphere of meditation and communion it was conspicuous by its absence. One had to seek that atmosphere in oneself. I did observe devout sisters, who were absorbed in meditation, entirely unconscious of the environment. But for this the authorities of the temple could scarcely claim any credit. The authorities should be responsible for creating and maintaining about the temple a pure, sweet and serene atmosphere, physical as well as moral. Instead of this I found a bazar where cunning shopkeepers were selling sweets and toys of the latest fashion.
When I reached the temple, I was greeted at the entrance by a stinking mass of rotten flowers. The floor was paved with fine marble, which was however broken by some devotee innocent of aesthetic taste, who had set it with rupees serving as an excellent receptacle for dirt.
I went near the Jnana-vapi (Well of knowledge). I searched here for God but failed to find Him. I was not therefore in a particularly good mood. The surroundings of the Jnana-vapi too I found to be dirty. I had no mind to give any dakshina. So I offered a pie. The panda in charge got angry and threw away the pie. He swore at me and said, ‘This insult will take you straight to hell.’
This did not perturb me. ‘Maharaj,’ said I, ‘whatever fate has in store for me, it does not behove one of your class to indulge in such language. You may take this pie if you like, or you will lose that too.’
‘Go away,’ he replied, ‘I don’t care for your pie.’ And then followed a further volley of abuse.
I took up the pie and went my way, flattering myself that the Brahman had lost a pie and I had saved one. But the Maharaj was hardly the man to let the pie go. He called me back and said, ‘All right, leave the pie here, I would rather not be as you are. If I refuse your pie, it will be bad for you.’
I silently gave him the pie and, with a sigh, went away.
If anyone doubts the infinite mercy of God, let him have a look at these sacred places. How much hypocrisy and irreligion does the Prince of Yogis suffer to be perpetrated in His holy name? He proclaimed long ago: ‘Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap.’ The law of Karma is inexorable and impossible of evasion. There is thus hardly any need for God to interfere. He laid down the Law and, as it were, retired.