Book excerpts from the Spirit and Flesh religion and spirituality online library.
Rishikesh and the holy Ganges: uplifting experience with Goddess Ganga and Shiva
excerpted from OM, baby! a pilgrimage to the eternal self, by Jack Haas
Ah, Rishikesh, what a place! What an unbelievable, sanctified, prayer-ridden, blessing-filled, exalted, monumental accomplishment of the human spirit.
Although the main part of the city is as horrible as every other city in India- and horrible is as gentle an adjective as one can find for such places- as always the gem is to be found within or nearby the shit. And with Rishikesh the gleaming emerald of the spirit lay just out of town, by the bathing ghats, an area which is one of the most frequently visited holy places in the entire country. And there is good reason for such a mecca.
This part of Rishikesh means many differing things to many different people, but there is a common denominator dwelling within that sacred area which is the wellspring of everyone's individual experience. The great draw and immense gem of this part of Rishikesh, however, is not to be found in the thousands of pilgrims who flock to the town every day to bless and be blessed by the sacred Ganges, nor is it in the countless shaggy-haired sadhus who populate the town and its environs during a lifetime devoted to meditation, wandering, smoking hash, and begging. Nor is it the intensely soul-uplifting evening puja of bhakti songs, chants, and prayers carried out at the main temple, which attracts hordes of Hindu common-folk to this divine event every night. Nor is the gem the free food which is given out twice daily to all sadhus, saints, and passers-by at one or another of the philanthropic institutions operating almost invisibly within the area. Nor is the pearl of great price the allure of the Beatles' historic visitations to the town in search of their own enlightenment. No, the gem that is the living, breathing, flowing life of Rishikesh is to be found in and as the sacred Ganges itself. Without the Ganges there would be no Rishikesh. For the Ganges is no ordinary river. In fact, it is not a river at all. It is peace.
Where that sacred artery of the living spirit passes by the bathing, holy ghats at Rishikesh, the river is no longer a mere channel of water moving from the mighty Himalayas, down across the central plains towards its delta in Bengal and Bangladesh. At the point where the Ganges passes the holy, bathing ghats at Rishikesh, the river is transfigured into a standing wave of absolute peace. You can feel it. I felt it, like I had never imagined I could feel such calm and serenity exuded from a wildly flowing entity. I had never even thought such a phenomenon existed.
We had come to Rishikesh during the monsoon season, and the Ganges was at its height of fury and flow, and yet there was not a single sense of chaos nor commotion coming from it. There was only peace. And I mean deep, soulful, visceral, corporeal peace. This was not a 'peace of mind', as they say. The mind knows nothing of this peace. Because this type of peace cannot be known, it can only be felt. And feeling is the province of the heart, soul, and flesh, and the mind can neither approach nor receive this vibration, and so it must shut off its machinator, and humbly dissolve into the peace which passeth all understanding.
No doubt this immense breath of peace emanating from the Ganges has everything to do with the serene quiescent meditations of the yogis living in caves high up in the mountains near the river's source, as well as the limitless offerings and prayers poured into the water by the endless parade of pilgrims who come to Rishikesh to consecrate their lives and be sanctified by this profound flowing vessel of the spirit.
The Ganges is an actualization of the Goddess Ganga, whom, it is said, refused to come to earth, and so Shiva himself had to come to her to request that she descend to earth to bless this world with her divinity. Apparently she agreed, but the force from her descent onto earth was so immense and powerful that Shiva had to receive her divine plunge from the firmament into the knotted mass of his hair, and there let it flow more gently onto the Himalayas and downward into humanity, where it became the river that is the blessing of Ganga Herself.
In this way Shiva is intricately connected to this divine river of tranquility. It is perhaps for this reason that not only peace radiates from this river, but passion as well, the passion of Shiva; for Shiva is the destroyer who is also a creator. Yes, a creator. And this is because destruction is in fact an act of creation; destruction is the end which is a beginning. As Shiva destroys, his Shakti creates. Shakti is the feminine power of the Godhead, without which only non-being would occur; for divine non-being to transform into divine being, the feminine power of the godhead is essential, for She is being. And so it is said that Shiva is nothing without Shakti, and Shakti is nothing without Shiva.
 This line is paraphrased from a wonderful book- Shiva and Shakti, by Ganga Somany. Published by Bookwise, New Delhi. 2002
by Jack Haas