I fell head over heels for Rishikesh the first time I visited in 2005. Ever since, over a span of numerous visits – sometimes for its camping escapades, or for the thrill of white water rafting (India’s best) and bungy jumping (India’s highest), or for the luxury of spending some rejuvenating time by the Holy Mother Ganga, or just by the coincidence of it being located on path of other Himalayan getaways – the love grows fonder. I have known it as a colorful and cheerful city where there is never a dull moment. However, all this was to change when I wanted to experience the other non-touristy side of the river and stayed near Parmartha Niketan Ashram in October 2014.
Perhaps it’s His way that first we need to saturate ourselves with all the frivolous experiences that he will then reveal the-meaningful-ones!
We had no other plans for the evening of 2 October 2014. Hence, we decided to attend Ganga Aarti at the Ashram upon suggestion of the hotel receptionist. We sat juxtaposed to the flowing Ganga at the ghat anticipating the usual religious jingoism and rituals. I reassured myself that atleast this is not as crazy-crowded as like that of the aarti at Haridwar earlier.
Soon after, like the first rain after a long desiccating draught the melody started to dissolve in my ears. I started to drown in the musical outpouring of devotion created by the students of the Ashram. In the motley of crowd, I noticed many content and happy faces varying in nationality, color and religion, all were lost in the love of the Lord under the influence of the soul-stirring rendition of sutras and devotional songs. It was then that I decided to enhance my experience by seeing the perspective from a local’s point of view.
It is not just a ritual of lighting lamps but a communion with God.
During a later visit I managed to have a conversation with the one who was leading the singing party – Manohar Ji. We truly understand the nature of a place when we sense it from the heart of a local and heart of this one bleeds at the general degradation in the state of affairs he has witnessed over a span of his 10 years in Rishikesh.
“Should I tell you something?” he said, and then shared “I have been singing at the aarti for 6 years now but lately I have started to feel squeamish about singing on weekends. It’s the outsiders! ” I understood his point immediately. The hordes of merry-makers from Delhi-NCR and other cities descend upon this small city on weekends gorging on its gifts and in return desecrate it with litter – both material as well as that of the thoughts. I am sure many of you woman travelers like me will attest to the fact that we have been victims of jeering and indecent gesturing while sitting on the ghats or walking the narrow lanes here from other inebriated rambunctious fellow travelers from our very own cities.
This is a place of sanctity, devotion, and calm. True that there may be local administration issues and morally depraved individuals in the local population as well but as guests, I believe, ‘outsiders’ should be mindful of their conduct. I am myself from Delhi and in that moment I felt ashamed since he represented voice of Rishikesh and he was thoroughly displeased with the people of my city. I tried to regain some dignity by steering the conversation to foreign nationals. “I notice a lot of foreigners take part in the Hindu rituals here. I assume it is just a lure of novelty, I can’t believe they understand the true meaning behind this” I quipped. But he crushed asunder my vanity and explained “you will be surprised to know that the foreigners are increasingly understanding our cultural nuances or genuinely trying to while our fellow countrymen are getting increasingly oblivious to our own heritage” Now, this is something to consider.
Quickly skimming though various topics of climate change, the life of students in the Gurukul, Indian heritage, I feel that I have been able to see Rishikesh in a new light. I remember how I was interested in clicking pictures making recordings when I first attended the aarti and compared it to now when all that the heart desired was for the musical renditions to go on and spend eternity here watching the sun go down and the river flow. While traveling, we usually worry about infections but I feel infected already and I am loving it.
The cheer, peace, hopes, balance, and content of this place is contagious. I believe I have been altered for life, in a positive way. I hope you get to feel the same someday.
The following are a few links that you can visit for recording of the aarti session although much more is available on youtube.
Manohar Ji is now sharing the light of yoga across the globe by conducting meditation programs. His wellness venture Spiritual Punditz through its Yoga Alliance certified Ekattva Yogshala, is providing Yoga Teacher Training and various other Courses. visit www.spiritualpunditz.com
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