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An Evening with ‘Ganga Maiya’

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By Roli S

Why do I like rivers so much? This question is asked of me time and again and my answer has remained the same – that the river is one of my favorite metaphors, it is the symbol of the great flow of life itself. The river begins at Source, and returns to Source, unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception and we humans are no different.
Besides the metaphorical reference, what rivers bring to us is ‘Water’ and I need not stress on the importance of this one natural resource that has made the whole world sit up and take notice.
Recently I was in Varanasi, visiting the city after a very long-time despite being closely connected with it. I was following the activities of the city on TV and in magazines and was very eager to experience the changes that may have occurred in the new age Varanasi after the ‘swachhta abhiyaan’.
Generally, when people visit Varanasi they have the agenda of performing various rituals and rites and visiting the many temples, etc. Not being too inclined towards these things, I was nevertheless very excited to visit and see the newly done up and ‘clean’ Ghats of River Ganga. After all, caring for our natural resources is also a sacred and saintly custom, isn’t it? River Ganga is called ‘Ganga Maiya’ very fondly in this city referring to it as the mother and why not? After all isn’t it the symbol of the great flow of life itself, like any life-giving mother?
I was overwhelmed and moved when I took a boat ride in the river to witness the famous ‘Ganga Aarti’. The atmosphere was magical. The calmness of the river and mystery of the setting sun together made the whole experience other worldly. Colourfully lit up Ghats of ‘Ganga Maiya’ brought in the required grandeur. It felt like a fitting tribute to the mighty river!
Ganga has always been regarded a Goddess. Whatever brought her to Earth – a curse or a request from a distressed man – she has always been divine to her faithful. Her form is godly – four arms, three eyes (to view the past, the present, and the future), well-ornamented, the crescent moon adorning her crown, carrying a lotus in one hand, an urn of jewels in another, draped in a saree, fanned by a lady carrying a yak-tail fan and another holding a white umbrella over her head. The Goddess rides a makara – a mythical creature, half crocodile and half fish. The Ganga is said to have streams in heaven, hell, and, on Earth.
Such a powerful and weighty description of the Ganga River in our scriptures has always made me wonder about the truthfulness of the portrayal, but when I stood by the bank of the river surrounded by the electric atmosphere, I forgot all about the doubts clouding my vision. I also forgot about my concerns for sewage treatment, sludge control, government glitches that are a hinderance in attaining ‘clean status’ for River Ganga, etc. I only looked around me and tried to breathe in the parapsychological atmosphere.
I looked around at the faces of the thousands of devotees, folded hands totally bewitched by the power of the ‘aarti experience’ and then the thought came to mind: ‘Is this humanity at this moment thinking about the River Ganga and all that it has done for them or are they here still asking, still demanding that “Ganga Maiya” fulfill some of their unfulfilled wishes and “manautis”? Are they at all thinking about their duty towards their “Ganga Maiya’? I shifted my attention towards “Ganga Maiya”, thanked her for all her services and promised that I would do all in my capacity to generate awareness about keeping our rivers clean. I also apologised on behalf of humanity for not looking after “Ganga Maiya“ and making her dirty and the subject of pollution!
The care of rivers is not a question of rivers but of the human heart, because rivers run through our history and folklore and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and marine life and trees and plants of every sort. We are a nation rich in rivers and rivers are magical things. A good river is nature’s life work in song, and it can be very well poetically described and mythologically explained but the fact of the matter is that a river depends for her dear life on glaciers and rain and the all-important ‘water’. They have to not only be used, but also well managed.
There is so much mismanagement of water in our country. A country that boasts of its love of nature and natural resources year after year faces floods and droughts at the same time. Many times ‘Ganga Maiya”, when in flood, is actually pained when its water instead of giving life destroys it, and on many other occasions she feels helpless when she finds her water not reaching places where it can give life. On these occasions, “Ganga Maiya” actually cries out to the people of this nation, “Tame me, hold me, control me, direct me, manage me and use me wisely. Let me be the real mother you are making me out to be.”
I bring my drifting thoughts back to the present and see a priest approaching tme with the “Aarti Thaali”. I let him smear my forehead with sandal paste and vermillion. I bow with respect to the “Aarti Thaali” and convey my respect to the mighty River Ganga and vow to look after her in any little way possible, for instance writing this article, to move people and their thoughts towards caring for our rivers a step towards “Mission Water”.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author, and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)