As an Indian, observing religious practices has been part of my growing up years. And today, I have yet another blessed experience to share as I visit Haridwar and the Ganges River. India’s famous and holiest river has long been known for its purity and spiritual sacredness. It is considered to be the terrestial home of the goddess, Ganga. The 2, 525 km Ganges is the longest river in India and flows eastward from its source in the western Himalayas across northern part of India until it reaches the Bay of Bengal. It passes through several Indian states as Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Bengal. Annual pilgrimages to the shrines and temples along Ganges River are made by Hindus to engage in purifying rituals. Every 12 years, Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world is held on the banks of Sangam, where the waters of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati converges. It is believed that to bathe in Ganges River is to wash away one’s sins, while spreading one’s ashes in the water upon death may hasten salvation and improve one’s karma.
One of the seven holiest places to Hindus is the Haridwar district in Uttarakhand. As one of the four sites where drops of Amrit, or the elixir of immortality was accidentally spilled as the celestial bird Garuda carried the pitcher. To dip into the holy river or simply visit this holy place is already an overwhelming experience for me. Now, I understand the feeling of the millions of devotees who partake in the special bathing rituals in the Ganges. I just hope that the government will come up with a more effective plan to clean-up the river and that the devotees themselves exercise more respect and be more responsible in observing the cleanliness of the river to somehow improve the standards of the public health and hygiene in the area.
To get a panoramic view of the Ganga, I decided to go to Ram Jhula in Rishikesh, still in Uttarakhand state. It is a 450 ft long iron suspension bridge that can be used to cross the river. From this bridge, a very nice view of the Ganges River and the different ashrams and religious centers can be seen in full view. As I wait for the evening prayer at the Geeta Bhavan’s ghat, I decided to have an early dinner at Chotiwala. It is the very famous restaurant that has been in operation for 50 years now! I definitely give two thumbs up for the palatable dishes they serve. I left the restaurant satisfied and with a very full stomach.
I took some time walking around the area, enjoying the evening breeze and the night view at Ram Jhula. Then I went to the river bank and waited for the evening prayer. Other people have also started to gather there. Later on, the sound of bells can be heard announcing the start of the Ganga Arti and Hawan, with young dedicated boys singing the mantras under the blessing hand of Shiva while doing some fire and incense offering. The ceremony lasted for 30 minutes. It was an enchanting moment to see how the river Ganga is admired and worshipped.
To cap this day’s realization, let me share this beautiful thought from the First Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. “ The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s age-long culture and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing, and yet ever the same Ganga.”