Mystical Place Rishikesh

Travelling, as you might have by now realized, reading my earlier blog posts, is one of my raw nerves. I require a well-deserved break to refresh. This travelogue made me understand why many bloggers travel so extensively. Traveling to different destinations, seen and unseen, both, gives you new insight, new experiences of people and places. This travel of mine which lasted for around 10 days in the northern part of our country brought in mixed feelings. I had visited some places quite a number of times while two places were new for me and I had longed to visit one of these places.

The first leg of my travel was to Agra, Mathura & Vrindavan.  I had written about my experience in Vrindavan especially, some 8 years back when I went there for the first time. (Click here to read the post).  I thought, that the scene I encountered then might have changed for better. It did change, but whether, it was for better or worse one can surmise by his or her own experience. I for one can say that an organized loot is carried out in the name of faith in Vrindavan, systematic brainwashing of hapless devout travelers took place when I first visited the place in 2011. It has become, even more sophisticated, I can say.

After completing official work, I happened to visit Rishikesh & Haridwar.  I had waited, pretty long, for this day, I would say.  I wanted to see the Ganga River. It had eluded me many a time before. It had been a classic tale of so near, yet so far, in the past. So I was very curious to visit the place. I have seen many rivers like Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari, Ravi, Tapi, Cauvery, Tapti, Beas, Jhelum, Sindhu etc. But Ganga eluded me. Let us leave behind the current debate surrounding Ganga, its purity etc. Yes, Ganga river requires to be cleaned, for it is not just another river for Indians. It carries a Godlike halo around it. no other river of this land is so mythical or commands such awe, respect, and devotion than Ganga. An entire Indian subcontinent owes its existence to this river, whose name is etched up in our consciousness and whose reference one can trace in folklores dating back to centuries and thousands of years more.

Another place which I wanted to visit was Rishikesh. I have read quite a number of spiritual works by renowned spiritual leaders and have never missed the reference to Rishikesh.  I have read books of Spiritual Masters like Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, who is also credited for spreading Yoga and Hinduism to the west, Journey with a Himalayan Master written by Swami Rama, The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami by Radhanath Swami, If Truth Be Told: A Monk’s Memoir by Om Swami and other such books. All these books delve into the spiritual prowess of the place called Rishikesh. And they were not wrong.

As we crossed Haridwar and our bus started its journey on the curved roads, somehow, I could feel the difference. Maybe, because, I was expecting too much about the place, some skeptics might say. Maybe they are true. But, yes, as I reached Rishikesh, I could feel the vibrations, the energy of this place. Afterall this place has been the abode for many spiritual masters like Mahesh Yogi who was called a Flying Yogi in the west,  Swami Shivananda, Neem Karauli Baba of the famed Beatles etc.  We crossed the Ganga River by boat and bathed in the river. At 12 in the noon the water was chilling cold, the flow was very fast. It was my first experience with Ganga River and I was mesmerized. We spend around one hour in the river. Anyways, we had lost the time count by then. We did not visit many temples, just an Ashram. But, still, the place exuded such a vibrant energy.  We sighted many foreigners from western countries. They were there to learn Yoga. Rishikesh is called as the Yoga Capital of the World. 

On the way, we found a man in his early sixties, he was wearing just a white loincloth and an orange headgear. He was dark complexioned, his cheeks had retreated, but his face glowed, he was simply sitting on the banks of the river. His face exuded pure joy and happiness, which we yearn for. On inquiry, we understood that he was from Tamil Nadu, he was a highly qualified rich man from that state. He just left everything behind and came to Rishikesh. He had taken ‘Sanyas”.  The inquirer in me arose. I had read many a thing about Rishikesh and it was now time to check some of those. I inquired him about the mystical experiences which he had, about the upper reaches of Rishikesh and the Sadhus and Sanyasis staying there. Finally, I asked him what did he achieve here. He said, I found the real joy, the eternal bliss, that we all long for.  I am sure the man was not lying, for he had no objective gain in lying. He did not accept money from us either.

There are numerous such people staying in Rishikesh, they are in search of that eternal bliss, which is called as “sat chitta ananda”. Yes, some of them may be totally fraudsters, but one can find few ones who are genuine seekers. 

Rishikesh is also becoming a commercial place, activities other than spirituality, like fast water rafting, adventure sports etc is promoted. However, one who is in search of something higher will ignore these things.

I shall certainly strive to make another visit to this mystical place, as early as possible, and probably yet another one and another one.

Gn.

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Diwali – Festival of Joy, Then & Now.

The day before yesterday as I was with my son in the market to buy some firecrackers, frankly, the rates I heard of all those crackers were so high that for a moment I started supporting firecracker ban.

Ban or no ban, I support firecrackers during this festive period of light, Diwali. All reasons are given justifying the ban, the main being that it creates pollution. Why not ban private vehicles and promote public transport system, after all, they create more pollution, round the year,  than the firecrackers, that are anyways now getting beyond the reach of the common man due to steep costs. Somehow, I feel that there is a deep conspiracy to malign all Hindu festivals, The Ganesh Utsav is criticized for the pollution that the idols made of Plaster of Paris create, The Holi, The Dahi Handi and almost all festivals. No, I am not a hardcore right winged activist, but most certainly, something malicious designs do exists.

The crackers that I saw, made me nostalgic while returning home with my son, my pocket was lighter by few thousand rupees,  I told him that during our times’ life was so different, it was so easy and uncomplicated. 

The Diwali was and still is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in our country.  Each person ensures that he celebrates this festival with all the kind of resources he may have, sometimes even by borrowing it from others. But, the occasion is never left uncelebrated. 

As kids, Diwali was special, for it brought a pretty long vacation. We would ensure that our houses were cleaned, as kids, we would too participate in the coloring of our houses, my dad, was a multi-tasking person, he would take me as his assistant in coloring the house. The walls were painted in colors mixed with simple distemper, to cut costs. We would get new dresses, the markets, the streets, the shops, the vendors all overflowed, there used to be a sense of celebration in the air. 

Then just a day or two before Diwali, my dad would me take to the market to buy crackers, he was an economical person, he was aware that if the firecrackers were brought earlier, the entire stock would get finished before Diwali. To compensate late purchase, he would buy the toy gun with the cracker rolls. There were rolls and small round boxes with contained round crackle called as “tikli”, those who have lived those days will certainly go back in times and recall the joy of those simple things. Our ingenuity would take flight while playing with those fake guns, each one would become a cop or a hero, Amitabh or Shashi Kapoor or Dharmendra, you had choices then.  We would take two small chips of stone and put some ammunition in between and tie them tightly with thread, those would become our hand grenade or “apti bomb”. We would arm ourselves with these ammunitions and split into teams and fight with each other, till we end up with our ammo.  The animosity ended with the ammo though.

Then on the D Day that is the first day of Diwali, we would get up at around 4.30 am in the morning, bath with “Moti” Soap, we still do, in fact, I do believe that improper branding restricted Moti soap only for Diwali occasion.  The Diwali Sweets or faral as we call it here would get distributed in neatly arranged places, there were around 21 houses in our chawl and mom would ensure that I distributed sweets to all. Neighbours would also reciprocate similarly.  Those days, the community camaraderie was visible all over, if some house did not celebrate Diwali due to some reasons like death of family member, close relative etc, the entire locality would ensure the steady flow of dishes and would ensure that the house is not left out.  This is not seen nowadays, we are growing more self-centric and confined and restricted only to our own house and welfare of our family members.  Those were days of poor people with rich hearts and now its exactly the other way round.  However, there still are very few good souls left even today, which leaves a sense of hope and sanity in this mad rush of self-serving never-ending greed.

Rewind 80s, we used to hit our ground at 6.30 with the firecrackers, the lavangi, the taj mahal, the bhuyi chakra, the pavus, the surusuri, the snake that would wind into a black coil and emit the strange odor. The rassi bomb used to bring a sense of awe for the powerful sound it created and was usually limited to grown-ups. Then there were some lightworks in the sky with rockets. But, the cost factor meant that we could afford very less of those luxury then. 

The bhau beej came during these festive periods and was yet another happy occasion. Relations have now taken twists and turns, most of us celebrate most of these occasions more on Facebook and WhatsApp than in reality.  The faral that mom used to prepared, add to it the gift boxes and sweets that the neighbors and relatives would bring added more joy.  As the festival ended and the faral containers would start emptying the taste of those lingered even more and we would yearn for more.  

Thankfully, even today, Diwali has not lost the sheen, though the costs have increased, the joy and the happiness have remained same as it used. The festival has commercialized more with corporates pitting in with the launch of new offers and products etc.  But, this will be the festival I would love to celebrate again and again and again.

Wishing Happy Diwali to all my readers, May the lights of Diwali usher in more happiness in your lives.

Signing off for today.