Back on the banks of the Ma Ganga and all I can say is this – I think I swam at the wrong end!
I’m with my friend Anu who I worked with in hotels many years ago in the UK and I am so pleased to be in her company and exploring this holy place. Rishikesh and Haridwar offer some of the most important temples in Hinduism. I attend the Mansa Dewi Temple and the Chandi Devi Temple. Mansa Dewi is the Goddess of fertility and prosperity. She is also known for ‘what you will’ what you wish for she will grant you. Pilgrims in the thousands descend upon these towns to bathe in the river and attend these sites.
As always in Hinduism, high on the hill we venture to opposite ends of the town to the most important temples here. It’s ridiculously hot and as we meander past the series of shrines, offering flowers, food, incense and prayer, the crowd engulfs us and the intermittent holla of Jai Krishna bellows through the corridors. It’s the same across the valley and Anu tells me that if I will it so, it will be. At this point I will for aircon. Nope. Oh well how about safety, my ‘go to’ prayer for me; and health, my ‘go to’ prayer for others. I feel like I’m bobbing for apples. Head down at the feet of the Shiva stone. Head bowed for blessing from the Brahmin priest, head down for the tikka to be applied. This bowing of respect is in all religions. Bowing down in the pews of Catholic churches; bowing down in prostration in the mosques.
At night, the Arti ceremony differs from town to town and I particularly enjoy the one in Haridwar. Not as grand and showy as Varanasi and a better vibe than in Rishikesh. What I particularly love is the oath that it begins with. The promise the crowd of thousands make to the Ganga; a Goddess in their eyes to keep her clean, to respect her, to not throw their rubbish on her banks or in her living water. That explains the clarity of the water this end. Perhaps Varanasi needs the same oath. I enjoy the colours of Hinduism, the giant Krishna on the banks – 20 feet tall and bright blue, the Sadhus scattered around with vibrant orange across their faces and in their clothes. The flowers in every colour offered to the Gods and the backdrop of crisp white of a Brahmin priest and the milk often poured over the Shiva stone.
If I recall nothing in future of what I’ve learnt, or who I met– the colours of India are permanently etched in my mind.
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim