For people of Jabalpur, Narmada is like an all-compassing friend, philosopher and guide. They share their happiness as well as sorrows with that river. No auspicious ceremony is held unless the family visits the river and offers prayers. All politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats solicit the blessings of that pious river. If that river has seen births, it has also seen deaths. It was there when people sang songs of their love and was still there when two separated souls shed their tears silently. It was flowing through the pride of success, then it was silently nursing it destitute throughout his times of failure. If that river had supported an ambitious person throughout his cycle of growth, it has also provided a comfortable embrace when someone went through the downfalls. In fact, one can go away from her, but she never left him and was always with him throughout and beyond. It always remained in the heart of the people there.
Out of the numerous ghats that line up in the near vicinity of the city, Gwari Ghat is the most famous and accessible to the people of that city. In fact, a narrow gauge train line connects it with the main station.
Besides the city roads connecting it with the city, that could also be visited through various village roads. In fact, almost all the villages situated nearby are connected with that Ghat. We also took a village road through “Tilhari Village”, which was totally deserted in the evening. On the unlit road, covered with an evening fog that is characteristic to the river banks, we drove for about 10 kilometers. That serpentine road curved and curled through the river grasslands interspersed with small village settlements. With the windscreen total wet with the droplets formed due to dense fog, we reached a well-lit Gwari Ghat. Those, who wish to spend an evening at Gwari Ghat with their family, should take the normal city road. That city road is well-lighted and quite smooth.
Just like the Ganga Aarti at Haridwar, an aarti ritual is also organized at the Gwari Ghat at Jabalpur at around 07-08 pm in the evening, which is considered as a very sacred ceremony. It was a pity that the famous ceremony was just over when we arrived. But the decorations were still there and the atmosphere was still reverberating with the melodious songs in praise of river Narmada. The auspicious lamp was still burning. The priests had just left their respective raised platform. The conch shell and the bell were still lying there. I stood there trying to visualize the scene when five priests would have raised their respective lamps in unison and performed the aarti in well-coordinated movements.
Large numbers of people, that had come to attend to the aarti, were gradually dispersing. I had missed the specific auspicious occasion and was really feeling guilty about it. That feeling of guilt was so immense that I sat down at the riverside and was motionless for a few minutes. The only thing, that gave me peace in that state of mind, was the peaceful flow of the river Narmada. She was there gradually washing away my sense of guilt and remorse with her waves. With the sound coming from her flow, she was telling me to get up and proceed ahead. With her help, I stood up once again. Believe me, it was my first-hand experience of how that river cures you when you are down with the negative emotions.
Narmada was, however, still there. She had not yet finished with me. Deep down, she knew that I was not yet overcome with my negative emotions. Still, when I looked up, I saw very well decorated boats floating on the river at the Ghat. There were a number of such boats and each boat was neatly decorated with flowers. One of local colleagues was accompanying me. The Narmada made him persuade me to go for a boat ride. It was almost night and generally boat rides are to be avoided when the river remains engulfed with darkness. Nevertheless, down with the constant guilt for not being able to see the evening aarti, I decided in favour of riding on one of the boats. The boatman was a young boy of jovial nature. He helped my friend and me in stepping into the boat. Then, with a brisk movement of oars, the boatman guided the boat towards the main stream of the River Narmada. The entire Gwari Ghat was now visible from the boat. The entire Ghat was covered in the yellow lights of the big Halogen lamps.
My colleague informed me that Narmada River is considered as the most sacred river. One of the local saying goes like “Ganges purifies oneself by taking bath in its water, but mere sight of River Narmada in enough for such purification”. Once I had read a review of the book called “A River Sutra” by Gita Mehta. Narmada River was central to that book. As per the author, three rivers originated from Amarkantak, eg, Narmada, Sone and Johilla. Out of those three rivers, Sone is considered as a masculine river. Narmada was supposed to be engaged to Sone. She sent Johilla to Sone to give him a message for her unbound love towards him. But Sone thought that the messenger Johilla was the actual Narmada and married her. Infuriated by his deceit, Narmada started flowing westward towards Gulf of Kambhat, whereas Sone flowed eastward till it met with River Ganges.
A little inside the River, there was a temple dedicated to River Narmada. My colleague informed me that the Narmada Temple remained completely submerged in the water, when the sluice gates at the Bargi Dam were opened during rainy season. Though the water seemed placid and no current was being felt, the boatman informed us that there was a strong current in the River. The boatman also pointed to a river-mark at least thirty feet high from the present water level to show the level of the river during rainy season. Such statement and the sight of the high water level was enough to send shivers down the spine. But, with mind full of guilt for not being able to see the Narmada aarti, I was not listening to any more of the negative statements.
To my heart, Narmada was gradually working on my sense of guilt for not being able to see the evening aarti. She was carefully taking us to her other side. Oblivious to what was happening within my heart, the boatman was maneuvering his oars with ease and expertise that is gained through experience. The movement of oars was producing a very musical sound and the boat was gently floating over the water towards the other side of the River. In the meantime, I was mesmerized by the reflections of Gwari Ghat on the placid water of the River, which provided a little relief from the guilt of not being able to see the Narmada aarti. My concentration was broken by the boatman, who was indicating towards a fort-like structure on the other side. In the humblest of voices, the boatman was seeking our permission to row up to the other bank. We had already crossed half of the width of the river. The Narmada, through her soothing music produced by the movement of oars in the water also persuaded us to accept that invitation immediately.
The massive embankment at the “Gurudwara Gwari Ghat Sahib ji” indicated that the building often come into contact with the water level. The boatman informed me that in the rainy season, the water level used to swell upto the point where the name of the Gurudwara was was painted. With my eyes fixed on the Gurudwara, I did not realize when our boat joined the other boats at the banks. With a little sound of “thud”, it hit the embankments and was docked.
The flight of steps took us to a massive Gurudwara. It was an all-white structure. The electric lightings were installed in such a manner that the building was sparkling. It had the facility of 24 hours “Langar” too. “Nishan Sahib” of that Gurudwara was operated with hydraulic systems and it was very high. Situated at a river bank, it was giving a very imposing look. Gurudwara Gwari Ghat sahibji also maintains a museum on sikh history at its basement. Pictures, some printed and some hand-drawn, were displayed in the big hall. The museum reminded me of the Sikh museum at Chandni Chowk, in front of Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara, New Delhi I really appreciated the efforts being undertaken by the Gurudwaras to propagate and inculcate the Sikh values through those pictures.
In my mental state, still fighting with the sense of guilt for not being able to see the Narmada Aarti, I sat in the spacious fully carpeted prayer hall of that Gurudwara. Suddenly, a Granthi offered the “Prasad” to me. He informed me that Gwari Ghat was also the place where Guru Nanak, in one of his travels, had visited.
I was apprehensive that River Narmada had made that Granthi persuade me to visit the actual place where Guru Nanak had stayed during his visit during 1508-1509 AD. So, we walked about 200 meters through a dark or semi-lit road that brought us to a grilled compound, which was well protected by numerous barking dogs. It was not easy to walk on that dark stretch of bushy land with dogs barking all around. However, we continued our walk with full resolve and reached to the very place at the banks of the Narmada where Guru Nanak had stayed.
Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, had travelled a lot, either in search of knowledge or to spread his teachings. His travels are described in four “Udasiya” of the Sikh literature. In the Gurudwara literature given by the Granthi, it was mentioned that Guru Nanak passed divine knowledge to the Sarvang Rishi in his ashram, which was situated at that place.
Before the land was acquired by the Gurudwara Management, a widow called Jhiriya Bai, was maintaining an “Akhand Deep” at that place. An Old “Sevadar” welcomed us into the room, where the “Akhand Deep” was still kept burning. Sitting in that room, I felt a very high degree of spiritual energy. Then, the sevadar told me the story of his life. He was a truck driver in his young age. At one point, his health deteriorated to an extent that he was abandoned by all his relatives for dying. He came to the forests of Jabalpur and slept in the forest so that he might be eaten alive by wild animals. Later, when he came to that, he got well without any medication. The sevadar had become a devout of the river Narmada and the place where Guru Nanak had visited. He told me that there might be something good going to happen to me. That’s why I had been permitted to visit river Narmada and also the place where Guru Nanak Had lived.
When we returned to the small dockyard, we found that our boatman had left with his boat and there was no way to reach to the other side of the river from where we had started our journey. We sat down there pondering the situation where we had landed ourselves in the darkness of that evening. Our feelings started growing from normal dismay to worry and then to sheer anger on the insensitiveness of the boatman. My local friend was intermittently losing his temper because it was he who had taken initiative for that boat ride in that evening.
But deep down in my heart, I knew that I had chosen for that boat ride not because of my friend, but because of the Narmada. And, the Narmada never fails. It was she, who was nursing me while I sat heads down at the Gwari Ghat. It was she, who persuaded me to cross her so as to uplift me from a very deep guilt. If that being so, it was not possible that she would be letting me stand on the other side of the Ghat for the night. While, I was brooding over all that, suddenly we saw a boat crossing past us. We shouted for help, but he did not stop and went past sailing over the water. My friend lost his control and started cursing the boatman, both who had left us stranded and also who had sailed past us.
Half an hour or so more again passed with no means to go to the other side. The fear of being stranded on the dark ghats in the night was started as a test against the patience and the faith towards Narmada. Just in time, when the faith and the impatience started to rumble in the mind, we saw a boatman sailing towards us from the other bank. Gradually, the blurred image of the boatman became crystal clear. He was “our boatman”, with his boat.
He had left us after waiting for a while. When we did not return from the Gurudwara after a reasonable time, he had thought that we might try to stay at the Gurudwara itself. Later, while he was resting with his friends, his sixth sense told him to re-check about our return journey. So, he came back to find us. Smiling at the fate, I sat down in the “Toofan Express”, which was the name of our boat and crossed the river again.
My stand that Narmada never fails her trust got vindicated that day. Feeling a sense of gratitude and respect, I stood up at her Ghat for telling her that she was attractive, strikingly beautiful and a Goddess that never fails the trusts of her faithful. A couplet from the Narmada Stotram bears the exact sentiments that flooded me that evening:
त्वदीयपादपङ्कजं नमामि देवि नर्मदे ॥५॥
One last time, before leaving her Ghat, I bowed down before that river to offer my prayers by burning some incense sticks and offering five floating lamps to the river. I stood there silently watching the tiny lamps floating past me and going beyond the boats and the ghats. It was not the time for uttering any words, but to thank River Narmada for her blessing on a wretched soul like me.