Thursday, July 31, 2008

Himalayan Yathra

I took two weeks off and spent time visiting some of the more important pilgrimage centres in the Gharwal Himalayas. Gangothri, Yamunothri, Kedarnath and Badrinath are places to which we [mainly Hindus] have been going since time immemorial. Mention of these places has been made even in scriptures and thus it must have been nearly 5,000 years since these journeys are being made. Why and what drove them to take this none too comfortable [downright dangerous then] journey?

Yamunothri is the origin of the river Yamuna and Gangothri is that of Ganga [in reality the origins are some way further up in the Gangothri Glacier]. But the places the pilgrims can go are the farthest they can go. These rivers are the life blood of the country and the earliest settlements of our ancestors were on the banks of these rivers and worship of these rivers thus dates back to pre history. Thus the worship and veneration has gone into the psyche of us Indians.

What about Badri and Kedarnath? Both have temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and are located at heights of around 12000 ft. After an arduous climb, you reach a place where there is a kilometer wide flat land surrounded by high rise mountains with snow caps. These two are places of indescribable beauty. My guess is that the pilgrims and other seekers must have been able to reach this height and could go no farther. They must have been awed by the beauty of the land and must have felt the Devine presence and a place where even death was welcome!

So much for the history and feeling. Now to come to some real facts. At all these places the approach is narrow and made even narrower by ill placed and kept petty shops. Garbage and dirt is strewn all over. Mendicants and beggars harass the pilgrims at every step. The shrines made up of black granite are grimy because of grease and floors are slippery. There is disorder and noise everywhere. I tried imagining how it would be if one removes all these and leave just the shrines. In my mind I saw a picture which was heavenly. It was impossible to hold on to this image as realty was otherwise.

I came back with the impression that we have no respect for our heritage and treat these great places with contempt. The sad part of the whole thing is that we even don’t know that we are sullying these shrines!

The redeeming feature of the trip was the spectacular Ganga Aarthi on the banks of the river at Haradwar. The ceremony, lasting for half an hour where in ten priests pray in praise of the mother Ganga with multi layered lamps. The evening I saw this spectacle there must have been more than 5,000 people witnessing with rarely seen discipline. I believe this thanksgiving ceremony has been going on for the last 1,200 years nonstop.

I returned home with the feeling, how nice it would be if our people show the same respect downstream and stop polluting this great river which at places is nothing but a flowing cesspool.


Anonymous said...

Dear Doc,
U need to visit some more places of piligrimage.I do agree with U.Try to visit Shirdi to see a well kept holy place although the diety is a Fakir.

Anonymous said...

As the saying goes," Cleanliness is next to godliness". Godliness we have in plenty. Cleanliness is not one of our virtues.In fact we are proud of it. We take foreigners on a walking tour around Asia's biggest slum Dharavi in Mumbai !
The dirtiest parts of our country are places of piligrimage and some tourist spots. You must visit the holiest temple in Benares; and Cape Comorin at sunrise to believe me.

Anonymous said...

I agree with u.My recent visit to Shirdi has saddened me.It has been commercialised to suit the needs of the trust than the common devotees.

Anonymous said...

Dear Semi Retired Doctor/Golfer
Yes, we Indians pay more attention to keep our souls clean and pure rather than the surroundings we live in. Progress had brought to India the likes of cell phones and plastic wrappers - both you see everywhere - former fondly craddled by the youth while the latter scattered round the countryside as litter. India has leapfrogged into high tech world while bypassing the path of mature indutrial growth and lacks the discipline to keep proper balance between progress, environment and the culture that is quite unique. Stay healthy.