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My River, My Mother
Worshiping the River
Visit to Ancient Holy City
Some 12 years ago, I visited Varanasi, the most ancient Indian city and seat of Vedic culture and Sanskrit study. As it was my first visit (and till now the only one) to the holy city, I was excited beyond words about the prospects of a unique spiritual experience. I had, however, been forewarned by well-meaning friends not to get too excited as, according to them, the ground realities were very different from impressions gathered by one from glossy photographs of coffee table books and far from congenial for spiritual experiences; river Ganga was extremely polluted and the city crowded, congested and dirty.
True to my friends' words, I found the river polluted and the city dirty and yet when I returned home after the visit, I was more wide-eyed and awe-struck than before. It was as if I had returned from an ageless mythical land where I had spent an unquantifiable period of time in a perpetual state of trance.
Although I had been looking, as I said before, for a unique spiritual experience, the roller coaster ride of emotions I went through during my stay in Varanasi was undescribable. This was not because of want of appropriate words but because of the state I found myself in, while and after experiencing the emotions. Let me try to explain.
Mother and River
When I laid my eyes for the first time on the river, which is affectionately and reverentially called Mother Ganga by millions of pious Hindus all over the world, I was struck by her awesome gentleness in juxtaposition to her garrulous flow. Even as I was admiring the sheer majesty of the river, I stole glances at my mother, an epitome of beauty and feminine grace, standing next to me. I had unquestioningly and ungrudgingly acknowledged my mother's beauty all through my innocent childhood and cynical adulthood. Yet she had grown old, feeble and infirm. Her dimples of blooming youth had given way to sunken cheeks. Her hands had turned coarse and developed callouses, rewards of selfless motherhood acquired by hard work in the course of raising her brood. Her silvery laughter continued to be as priceless as ever although the silver had gone missing. Her black tresses, once as dark as the looming clouds gathering at distant horizon over the mighty river, had turned white like freshly driven snow in the winter of her life. The woman who had taught me the virtue of standing on one's own feet, was having difficulty in standing without support. The woman whose face would have launched a thousand ships in her younger days, was now a grim picture of silent charm. If you thought, when she had stopped living for herself and started living for her children constituted a big mystery, a bigger one was when her selfless existence transformed into unspoken dependence on her children. Now, she was more like a child to me than an all-knowing and all-capable mother. I should protect and nurture her.
A Boat Ride on Ganga
Biological and Spiritual
I could not help comparing my biological mother with my spiritual mother. Both were beautiful and graceful, life-giving, life-sustaining, bountiful and forgiving. But for my mother's care and affection, my life would have been barren. So would have been the case of billions of my countrymen, had the river not existed or dried up. My mother, who had taken good care of me when I was small and vulnerable, herself needed to be looked after. For all her infirmity and fragility, she had not become any the lesser, still full of pride and self esteem.
Likewise, the river which had nurtured the lives of countless numbers of human beings, cattle and vegetation for thousands of years, was crying for understanding and help. The river on whose rich and fertile backlands thrived the oldest living religion of the world, was today witness to craftsmen of different faiths and cultural diversity practising their crafts in harmonious coexistence, forming a vibrant cultural mosaic. The seat of ancient Vedic learning is now a hub of modern day science and technical studies.
These have been some of the thoughts whirling in my mind during my stay in Varanasi and ever since my return.
Need for Care
It is a child's duty, nay, birthright to provide balm and succor to the ageing mother. It is a privilege of every Indian to take good care of the country's rivers, big or small, by ridding them of toxic waste and poisonous effluents. Ganga is not just another river although every river is a humble giver of life and sustenance, hope and solace. Ganga is a symbol of purity, all the positive values and spiritual beliefs and practises which mankind could hope to ever acquire for further progress and advancement. It is a river with a soul which symbolizes and embodies the spiritual mother of every Indian.
My mother is not physically around any more. She only lives in my thoughts. My spiritual mother lives on and continues to give me hope and faith. I should look after her with more care than ever and make up for my inability to tend to my biological mother any longer.
A view of Ganga in the Olden Days
Picture of Serenity
Now is the Time
The new Prime Minister has pledged to cleanse Ganga who has been absolving her children of their sins and purifying their souls since time immemorial. A right step in the right direction indeed. And not a minute too soon! Time for every Indian to stand up and join the leader's Herculean task of cleaning the Aegean stables and repay their debt and display their love, affection and gratitude to their own spiritual mother Ganga. It is sad enough that biological mothers go away. Let us not lose our spiritual mother as well.
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman