By Birendra Khati
Podcast by Anshika Nigam
It was my first visit to Haridwar, the most sacred place for all Hindus. Haridwar translates to gate to the abode of Lord Hari(Vishnu). Here, the river Ganges, called as Ganga in local dialect flows in all her glory. The river originates in Himalayas, flows through Rishikesh and Haridwar and reaches Kashi, before joining Ocean. The river is considered very holy and referred to as “Mother” by the locals. The places which the river touches upon are sanctified by its mere presence. Such is the sacredness of the river or so is the belief.
In Hindu mythology, the origin of the river is traced to legendary King Bhagiratha. The ancestors of the King were charred to death by the curse of a saint and their souls could not enter the Nether world. To propitiate them, the King took to a severe penance to please the soul of the river. The river was very happy with the prayers and descended to earth from the heavens. A mere touch of the holy river on the ashes of deceased released them from the curse.
Cut to present date and time frame: I was moving around and enjoying the view of the river. Walking on the Ghats of the river takes you to a completely different world. The Ghats are always crowded with people. A few thousand people visit here every day. While a section of people were busy taking holy dip in the river, there was another group with clean shaven heads as a part of the funeral rites of their deceased relatives. They are usually accompanied by a priest and release the ashes into the river after the ceremony. Also, the Ghats were flooded with hawkers who were selling various things.
In all this chaos something caught my sight. An old woman in her eighties/nineties in a wheel chair was accompanied by her family. She asked her son to assist her in taking the holy dip in the river, may be for one last time. Her son seemed reluctant seeing her condition and continuously asked her if she really wanted to do it. The lady was very much sure of her decision. Hence two men, one at each of her arm, lifted her and helped her to take the holy dip in the chilling cold water of the river. Though completely shivering, the lady looked happy and content after that. While I was watching all this from a distance, my mind wondered about the resolve of that old lady. More so, I was perplexed at the logic behind taking that holy dip in chilling waters, that too at such an age even when you are not capable of doing it. Isn’t the cosy bed of our home better than the chilling cold water of the river? May be these things are outside the realm of logic.
For anyone observing, the old lady was nothing but a dwindling set of bones and muscles, in a feeble state. Reasoning over the resolve of that old lady we are taken to a deeper concept of Body & Soul. While her Body had aged and was caught in physical challenges, her Soul remained free to wish for bliss. And that bliss, according to her, was overcoming her physical shortcomings and living upto her faith. Pure joy was in the fact that she would be embracing the waters she has been considering holy ever since she gained consciousness.
Come to think of it, how similar is our life’s journey! The concept of Soul bound in a human body and leading a Life can be treated just like a train travel by a person. Just as we see beautiful landscapes pass by us while we make the train journey, we see innumerable people and encounter varied experiences through this life’s journey vis-a-vis our human body. As the passenger of the train, who is the same person at the beginning of the journey as at the end, we are the same person in child hood as we are in old age. Only the vehicle that is our body has wearied out but the passenger in the body, the real ‘I’ is still the same. The passenger can only acknowledge the passage of time but cannot see any change in himself/herself. Death just seems like casting this worn out vehicle off and setting the Soul free to continue with a different journey.
Maybe this is what Haridwar is all about. The timeless river standing as a constant and unchanging witness to the ashes of millions and billions of old vehicles being dumped at her shore since time immemorial. Haridwar stands for casting off our insecurities, fears, greed, and enmity and growing into the best version of ourselves in any field we love. It stands for living and enjoying our lives as vibrantly as the waves of the river. It stands for living our lives with an open heart and an open mind, considering others as fellow passengers in this small journey. It stands towards acknowledging that though this small journey will come to an end, the experiences we have had along the way have made it worthwhile.
The author is Deputy Manager at Bharat Electronics