“Om Gangayeh Namah!” my mother chants everyday as she emerges from her bath every morning. She continues with the chanting as she offers waters to the Gods during her prayers. She hails the Ganga as the divine goddess who nurtures the earth with her holy waters. I grew up listening to the pious hymns of Ganga that filled our home with a mystical purity at the early hours of dawn. As a child I was a zealous listener to the stories narrated by my mother. Among the many fables told by her was the immortal tale of the Ganga, the river of life, tradition, culture, faith and much more. My mother, an ardent story teller instilled in me the seeds of curiosity and bewilderment about Ganga. I listened to the legends of Ganga with amazement and gradually started imagining her as a lady with mystical powers. My inquisitiveness about the holy river of India augmented with the passage of time and made me fall in love with her progressively.
With the introduction of the subject of geography in school I came to know Ganga as a river for the very first time. I meticulously studied about her voyage beginning at the glaciers in the Himalayas, through the extensive northern plains of India enriching the sacred cities of Varanasi, Hardwar, Allahabad and many more where she is joined by her varied and numerous tributaries until she encounters the Bay of Bengal and ends her long journey. I also realized the significance of the river as a life-giver. She crafts the most fertile soils in the world by bringing in colossal amounts of alluvial sediments right from the Himalayan valleys and dispersing it all along the northern belt of India, thus creating the food bowl of the country. Her banks are the abode of tremendous flora and fauna. She is also ascribed to the nourishment of the massive mangrove forests, the ‘Sunderbans’ along the delta that she forms as she merges into the Bay of Bengal. Ganga was no longer just a magical figure for me. She was now my hero, who had the prowess to flow incessantly for her lifetime to feed India.
In August 2007 BBC aired a documentary on the Ganga, titled “Ganges” which featured Ganga’s biography. The documentary covered the life of Ganga in three episodes, “The Daughter of the Mountains”, “The River of Life” and finally “Welfare”. Ever since I saw the feature on the Discovery channel I have been watching it over and over again, not once feeling jaded. The narration reminded me of my childhood stories of the Ganga. It also elucidated the spiritual aspect of Ganga in a more elusive manner. Ganga tells the story of the Indian civilization. She has been a witness to the thousands of folklore and legends in the Hindu mythology. She is worshiped as the mother goddess who bestows life upon this planet. A dip in her consecrated waters is considered to be a means to attain salvation and to wipe away the sins committed by an individual in his lifetime. Although the authenticity of such a belief cannot be affirmed, yet the spirituality of Ganga remains indisputable as she is indubitably the spectator of the evolution of the Indian culture. So Ganga became a historical masterpiece for me from then onwards.
During my vacations in school days I got the opportunity of visiting this whimsical river. I was fortunate to watch Ganga’s beauty in several colors of nature. I saw her wear the fresh redness of the morning, the sultry yellow of the noon, the dusky orange of the evening and the chilly black of the night. On the final day of our tour of the Ganga I sailed on the sacred waters on a boat. As evening began to approach, the boat docked and I saw the banks of Ganga, the ghats, getting crowded with thousands and thousands of pilgrims who assembled to offer their prayers. The evening prayer or ‘aarti’ began and with the fall of the night the waters of Ganga got illuminated with the shining light of the earthen lamps or ‘diyas’ which gave the impression of Ganga wearing an attire of gold. The loud incantations about Ganga created a musical harmony with the ringing bells, ‘dholaks’ and ‘jhumars’. The splendid river seemed to dance to the rhythm of the songs recited by the devotees. The impulsive rhythm reaching its reaching it crowning point and the heavenly lit Ganga seemed to transform the soul into a land of tranquility within. I felt entering into trance. As the jingling of bells started to fade off I started moving away from the ghats only to turn back once to see Ganga in all her grandeur. She seemed to gaze at me with her sedate eyes asking me, “When will you come again?” That day Ganga became the immortal epitome of reconciliation for me. I haven’t had a chance to return to the ghats since then. However hitherto when I seek serenity I close my eyes to see Ganga and all my fears are calmed.