It was an ethereal spectacle; the sun had just risen, suffusing the skies with its fiery golden hue. The gently rippling waters threw up shimmering orange reflections and it looked as if some divine finger had smeared a vermillion tilak across the breadth of the river . The panorama unfolding before my eyes was not just impossibly beautiful; it was an incredibly spiritual, transcendental and transformational experience. It felt as if one were gazing at the face of Divinity itself.
The USP of this river at Kashi is that it flows northwards here. Most rivers in India flow from north to south or from west to east. So does the Ganga except at Kashi where she becomes the Uttara Vahini here, gently caressing the city of her beloved Gangadhara, the Vishweshwara, the Lord of the Universe. She is the embodiment of purity, cleansing both bodies and souls with her sanctifying touch. She embodies the essence of Hinduism, its mythology, its history, its philosophy and its traditions.
I was standing on the steps of the Kedar Ghat in Kashi, transfixed by the hypnotic beauty of Mother Ganga …..it felt as if this was perhaps the moment I was unconsciously waiting for all my life. The past, the present and the future had merged into eternity.
Someone brushed past me and the reverie ended abruptly. I quickly captured a few images on my camera before joining my wife and daughter who were waiting impatiently for me along with a local priest who was engaged to perform the pinda pradanam ceremony (oblation to my departed ancestors for their spiritual salvation) on the banks of the Ganga.
The priest curtly asked me to wear a dhoti and take a dip in the river. The chocolate-brown waters were cold and I stepped in with a great deal of trepidation. An elderly woman thought that I was afraid of drowning and tried to reassure me; I explained that I was apprehensive about contracting some water-borne disease only to receive an earful for such blatant lack of faith. Mortified, I took in a deep breath, pinched my nostrils and immersed myself completely three times and made my way up the steps to the waiting priest. He ordered me to sit on the stone floor of the ghat in my wet clothes, chided me for not wearing the sacred thread and then he commenced the ceremony with the chanting of ancient mantras. Rituals, not very different from the one taking place, have been performed every morning on these very ghats for over five thousand years and I felt truly blessed.
Permit me to digress a bit. Hinduism cannot be comprehended without understanding the underpinning philosophy and the symbolism of its mythology. To illustrate this point, let me give an example. Mythology tells us that Ganga and Parvati are the wives of Shiva, but deeper analysis shows that they are one and the same. While both are embodiments of Shakti (divine energy), Ganga, the flowing river personifies kinetic energy while Parvati, sitting atop Mount Kailash represents potential energy. Shiva himself is Ardhanareeshwara (half woman, half man) a blend of the male and the female principles. Those who are of the opinion that Ganga and Parvati are different or that Ganga is an anthropomorphic representation of a river can never grasp the sublime subtlety of our culture and our traditions. In spite of a multiplicity of forms and names, there is only one underlying reality and everything in existence is a manifestation of that supreme realty. The Rig Veda declares that there is only one reality which sages describe in diverse ways (एकं सत विप्रा: बहुधा वदन्ति ). For the devout, Mother Ganga is a living representation of that reality.
References to the Ganga are there in almost all , if not all, scriptures and mythology; the Vedas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas all speak of her glory. Even an agnostic like Jawaharlal Nehru directed that his ashes should be immersed in this sacred river. As Gandhiji so eloquently put it, “she is a symbol of India’s age-long culture and civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga”.
|She is a symbol of India’s age-long civilization, ever-changing, ever-flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga – Gandhiji|
I apologise for this rather lengthy discussion. Call it the Ganga effect. She has not only purified my body and soul, but also my muddled intellect.
In the next post, I shall talk about my visit to Sarnath. In the last one in this series, I shall return to the Ganga but it will be an unadulterated travelogue, I promise.