Book excerpts from the Spirit and Flesh religion and spirituality online library.
Ganges River, India: bathing at the ghats in Haridwar: a profound experience
excerpted from OM, baby! a pilgrimage to the eternal self, by Jack Haas
After the blessed teachings from the subtle spirit of Guru Nanak at the Golden Temple, my soror and I moved eastward by train, heading for Rishikesh.
En route we were befriended by a true brotherhood of Sikh boys and men on their yearly pilgrimage to the sacred Sikh sites located in the Garhwal Himalaya. The Sikh fellows formed an amazingly jocular and caring group, ranging from teenage boys to sixty year old men, though no age difference was apparent in their interactions together- everyone was equal, everyone had a voice, everyone was as valid as the next, and everyone was a brother. It was an uplifting collection of souls to witness, containing immense love and wholesome ribaldry.
I soon recognized one man within the group to be the Indian emanation of a very good friend of mine back in Canada. Skin color aside, this fellow could have been my buddy's twin; he walked the same, carried himself the same way, showed humble love and respect for the rest of his brethren the same way, and took to me in the same way as well. He was the exact same spirit, in a different body, as my buddy back home- fifteen-thousand kilometers away. And yet he was right there, with me. It was fantastic. I was amongst my brothers. The fact that I did not know any of their names mattered nothing at all, for siblinghood is an outcome of the soul's affinities, and not of the mind's conceptions.
Our train journey ended at Haridwar, which is about twenty kilometers south of Rishikesh, from where one must continue by rickshaw or bus. Haridwar was a disorienting sea of pilgrims at that time of year, and the area outside of the train station was a maelstrom of chaos and confusion. Luckily we were invited into the circle of the Sikh brotherhood, and, following their lead, we proceeded through the tightly packed throng on the town's main thoroughfare.
On the day of our arrival the entire town of Haridwar was a thick bustle of pilgrims from all over India who had come at this auspicious time to bathe in the Ganges. And what a bath it was.
I had been to the Ganges before, farther down its course along the low lying, central plains, on earlier trips to India, and had decided never to bring my body near that flowing vein of sewage and pestilence. But up the river, closer to its source, at Haridwar and beyond, the Ganges has yet to journey down the mountains and through the endless towns and cities which pour their waste and garbage into it, and so it maintains much of its pristine quality.
Given this incentive, and finding great joy in the frenzy of the entire town bathing and playing about in the sacred water, my soror and I could not pass up the invitation of our Sikh brothers to join them in the dunking. And what a baptism it was.
The combined mania of the endless crowd along the ghats, the inexhaustible exuberance of our mates, and the tremendous fury of the Ganges itself, roaring majestically at that time during the monsoon, made for a breathtaking plunge into the torrent which almost tore the shorts off one's buttocks and ripped away the hold upon a brother's hand. Luckily the ghats in such areas are fitted with long chains, secured to the shore, and running out into the river. Holding onto these chains the entire troupe of our brethren would merge together, and we'd make our way out into the surge and thrust of the heaving river, grappling to hold onto each other and the chain, and then dunking under to complete the mission, and then up again, and the resounding laughter of our foster family dancing harmoniously with the blessed violence of the Ganges, and then another dunk, farther out into the flow, and holding desperately and with glee onto a brother's hand, who holds onto another's, and theirs is on the chain, and the whole mad show is flipping and whirling about in the pitch and swell, and I can't believe I'm finally in the Ganges, finally soaked in the glory of India's greatest show, finally immersed in the bubbling tempest that is the lifeblood of all that is the real India.
I have crisscrossed this sacred subcontinent numerous times before. I have traveled north to south and east to west. I have slept in the filth and futility of the worst cities on earth, here in India. I have prayed and meditated in the holiest centers in the land. I have walked about as if spell-bound by the people and the impossibility of this maddening and mythical country. I have wept and cursed here. I have praised and given thanks here. And I have lost my mind and gained my soul because of this terrible and holy place. But for the first time in all of my adventures and misadventures within this hallowed, inimitable, inconceivable divine creation, I know that as I am being licked by the fervor of the Ganges, and held by the hand of a brother whose name I do not know, whose language I do not speak, and who I will never see again after this afternoon has ended- I am finally in India.
I am finally in India. I have been baptized into the kaleidoscopic Hindu spirit and vibe by a band of Sikh strangers. I have been whisked out of one great devotional theatre, and transported into another. I have been given Hinduism by the very pariahs who turned against Hinduism, who turned against the caste system, and who grabbed me out of the ethereal dimension of the Sikh society, and launched me into Shiva's soul.
I am finally in India. I have come home. Om, baby!
by Jack Haas