India, Haridwar

At this rate, I might finish my 14 days in India in about 6 months of blog postings. Taking my time with to savor the beauty of it for as long as my selective memory can. A friend said to me yesterday, that India will stay with me for a very long time. I certainly hope so... India seems to be polarizing. I come across people who either love it or hate it, people who dream of going like I did or people who would never in a million years want to go.

Still day 1, 36 hours into the journey...
Denise (my new friend and soon to be roommate from the train) and I caught a prepaid taxi from Haridwar to Rishikesh. We arrived on the night of the full moon ceremony (Purnima) at the Ganga- the one that occurs once a year on the eighth month of the Indian lunar calendar. You'll see people moving a small flame held in their right hand in a circular motion before the emmence Lord Shiva statue on a large platform just off the steps of Parmarth Ashram into the Ganga. Symbolizing that the source of all light comes from God. They also put their hands in the flames the oil lamps and in one motion, seem to wipe the energy of the flame onto their head and shoulders as a self blessing or cleansing of sorts.  Aarti is offered as a form of blessing from God to the devotees. Offering baskets of flowers given to the Ganga, and people bathe in the Ganga in the belief that this will grant them immortality in exchange for confession of sins. 

never made it back to Haridwar to explore, although I had heard that the aarti (fire ceremonies) at the Ganga River there are amongst the largest and most festive. The gentleman from Delhi, Prashant, whom I met on the plane on my return flight, had just lost his elderly grandmother a few days prior. She died one year to the day that her son (Prashant's father) died, as if she was just waiting for the right time to go. (Incidentally, his grandmother in India also died the same day as my sons' great grandfather in Texas).
Prashant shared when a Hindu passes in India, the funeral lasts 16 days or so. The body is cremated and the family gathers and gives Puja (usually food and money in exchange for prayers for the soul of the deceased) to the Brahman (priest). The immediate family then travels to the Ganga in Haridwar to release the ashes into the holy river. It must be a certain day, for if it's too early, the Brahman there will not allow it. In Prashant's case, they arrived too soon and sadly were unable to carry out the ceremony. His brother had to go back a few days later on his behalf. The river is considered among the holiest in India and those that worship her believe she will purify everything and anything. In the case of the dead, it's believed that it will bring peace to the departed soul. May his beloved grandmother rest in eternal peace.

Shiva, Parmarth Ashram, the Ganga

Sannyasa (Renunciates)
This put a whole new perspective on the Ganga for me. I went to aarti every night for the first 10 days, basking in the beautiful chanting.  Completely mesmerized by the faith and devotion displayed, I was also a bit annoyed, however, at paparatizi-like feel (the number of cameras, including my own!) and how there seemed to be "special people" who were invited to the fire by Swamiji who only seemed to appear when these unique guests were there. I also discovered by the end that there's a look-a-like Swamiji: one with greying hair (Swami Chidanand Saraswati) and one with full dark hair. All that non-sense aside, I enjoyed watching the boys clad in yellow who live in the ashram. Some really seem to be intoxicated with the music, singing and clapping and others seemed bored to tears. They're just kids, after all. All of them seemed quite happy with their spot in the limelight, though, and a few often lead the chanting (a bit off key) but it was charming.
Our Kriya teacher Indu believes that her dip in the Ganga is what cured her eyesight when she was a child. I don't know that I believe the river Ganga contains anything more than what the believers and devotees hold in their own hearts. The power of faith is either there or it's not. I've always been strong in the area of faith. And, indeed, felt the mystical lure of Rishikesh and the Ganga. Having said that, the most intimate I got with the Ganga was an occasional washing of my feet and sandals after stepping in cow dung. (This happened at least 4 or 5 times.) The water was ice-cold, clean and seemed to be in hurry to go somewhere else. Perhaps it was carrying a few souls and offerings along, including the cherished remains of Prashant's loved one.


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