River Ganges or Ganga Ji (Not just Ganga, as I was corrected by a stall-wala in Haridwar!) is just not a river. For Hindus, a dip in its waters is on a supreme level. For many it is their ultimate bucket list goal; To bathe in Ganges. Ignoring the millions of people who actually live on the Ganges banks, it is believed by the Hindus that the opportunity to do so is only granted to a fortunate some and that too depends on their good deeds including the ones in their past lives (I love it how the Hindu Gods can take a rain check on their blessings and save it for the next life!). Now I don’t know whether its my past karmic rewards or whether I am a good Hindu or I am just plain lucky that I’ve actually made the journey to the Ganges 3 times in this lifetime already! The first two, I had accompanied my parents on their pilgrimage when I was little.
However last week when my mother visited me, she wanted to go to the Ganges again but this time….just to chill! In her exact words, “I just want to go and stay for a few days and listen to Ganga ji flow” which actually didn’t sound like a bad deal at all! While the Ganges is a huge river and I’m pretty sure if you dip anywhere it’ll be the same thing however there are a few sacred points (ghats) where pilgrimages are made to on the course of the river and one of them is Haridwar. It is believed that by dipping/bathing in this holy river, all your past bad karma is washed away. I kid you not, a lot of dying Hindus make their family take them to Ganges just before they kick the bucket so that they can avoid facing their sins on Judgement Day. (Good luck with that!)
I am not exactly sure why this time around, this trip to Haridwar was special. Perhaps I have evolved more spiritually (Vinaka age!) to appreciate the magnitude or maybe because it wasn’t a rushed day trip where the sole purpose was to dip and back or maybe I was just getting to spend some quality time with my mum. We stayed at a lovely heritage hotel right on the banks. And one thing I definitely appreciated more this time was the evening aarti at Har-ki-Pauri. It was just…and I don’t have a better word for it, magical. I think there is nothing more beautiful than those small prayer baskets with flowers and a diya that you let go in the waters after the aarti. It is heart-warming to sit and watch hundreds of the prayer flower baskets with lit candles flowing along the river carrying thousands of tiny hopes and wishes.
I was hesitant to actually bathe in the river and I am sorry, but the sad Uttarakhand disaster and the floating bodies story eeked me out a bit. On a realistic note Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and despite the holy connection, it is a bit hard to ignore. And that is exactly what is faith about. Look at it as a river and its a vicious destructive force of nature which is disgustingly polluted. Look at it from the eyes of a dying Hindu and its waters are your salvation.
Here are some pictures of the evening aarti.