Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jai Ma Ganga

It is now my fifth day in India. Each day so full, however, it feels more like my fifth week. I have made it pretty far north, to the foothills of the great Himalayas - Rishikesh, the self-claimed "yoga capitol of the world." I am staying at Parmath Niketan Ashram right on the banks of the fast flowing Ganges River.

Before I left, my friend Amanda had given me a small vessel of Ganges water that she had collected from Haridwar, when she visited India last fall. A single drop of Her holy water is said to purify your sins - so I did a short ritual bathing at Chicago O'hare International Airport. As I sat down in meditation outside the gate, a studdering Australian Hasidic Jew approached me, intrigued by my seated yoga asanas. I said "Shalom" and he gave me a teaching from the Talmud, and wrote down the address for a famous Rabbi, a Kabbalah teacher in Santa Barbara. I thanked him and continued with my Ganga blessing. He stood next to me and began "wailing at the wall," swaying from side to side, calling out prayers in Hebrew - while I chanted in Sanskrit. I couldn't help but appreciate the irony, as a born Jew, about to step on a plane in search of spiritual India... I poured Ganga over my head and felt chills down my spine. Bowed in pranam and boarded American Airlines flight 292 non-stop to India.

Stayed my first night in New Delhi in the "tourist ghetto" of Pahar Ganj at Hotel Namaskar. Thick sticky dusty air clouds the nostrils, dodge rickshaws and motorcycles, cows and humans, as I carefully step through stones and rubble - looks like a bomb just went off, but everyone stayed put.

Took the 6:50a train from Delhi to Haridwar. Finally, Hindus, everywhere! Sadhus in orange robes, women in every-colored saris, more cows, everyone laying on the floor to keep cool from the scorching Indian sun. Met a Swedish brother named Isac in the train station and we have been traveling together since. Took a rickshaw to Har Ki Pauri Ghat, one of the holiest places along the Ganges - it is said that Vishnu came down and left a footprint, and is the floodgates where the river descends from the Himalayas down into the plains of India. First thing, we headed down to the ghat and stepped into the cool refreshing waters of Ma Ganga. Ahhhh... so amazing. After so much reading and research, stories and videos, to actually taste (not literally, don't worry momma) this river Goddess - to partake in this ancient Hindu rite, dipping in the water with thousands of Indians side by side. I came out rejuvenated and reborn.

We found a nice little hotel with a deck 50 yards from the river and overlooking the whole scene. And what a scene. Unknowingly we had arrived on the full moon, and one of the holiest days of the year at Har Ki Pauri, by the evening there were close to a million pilgrims gathered along the river for the evening Aarti ceremony to Ma Ganga. I saw one blonde girl that afternoon, otherwise we were the only white people in the entire city.

It was one of the wildest experiences of my life. From the surface it looked almost like the Hindu equivalent to the Super Bowl, close to a million in attendance, stadium seating along the river, with no joke - cotton candy vendors and merchants selling Ganga paraphernalia. However, once we entered into the center of activity, there was so much heart and devotion, perhaps similar, but far (a world away) from any sporting event in the States. We purchased hand made baskets filled with flowers and incense offerings and walked down to the river bank where we were met by a Brahmin pandit. Another third eye blessing and we recited Vedic hymns, said aloud the names of our family members, and received blessings for long life and prosperity, then lit our basket flame and released it to Ganga - where it floated down river and shortly tipped over.

We crossed the half bridge to the Ganga temple and the Aarti ceremony began, everyone was going wild, the flames were lit and we could hardly move, pressed side by side. It was intensely devotional. Brahmins circled clockwise flame offerings to Ganga while loudspeakers and everyone chanted the traditional hymns. Huge flames soared beside us as we swayed to avoid getting scorched - it was all over in less than 10 minutes. A bright full moon rose above the river. Roaring lightning and thunderstorm broke, as rain poured from the heavens - clearing and sweeping the city clean, ready for a new day.


jenny said...

i can't wait to hear more about all your adventures there. please write as much as you can because we will be reading.
namaste, jennifer

Allison Wonderland said...

living is dreaming in action love you bro

Dot Zall said...

Seth, This is so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your adventures, experiences, and blessings with us. I just read this out loud to Greg. You never know how far your ripples of influence can travel.
Vaya con Dios !