Monday, July 6, 2009

Ganga-ji, the Goddess

We arrived in Varanasi and took a boat ride on the Ganga River, called Ganga-ji (the term of respect).

As we climbed onto the flat upper deck of a small wooden boat, I asked the guide, Nita Kumar, "This river is holy?"

"Yes, very holy,' she answered. "She is a goddess."

Sitting on the platform for an hour or two at sunset, with a flat vista of sand and then trees to the west, the city and steps up from the Ganga to the palaces and temples, yes, it felt holy to be there.

But perhaps all rivers are holy, I thought. I wanted to ask, like the simple child at the Seder meal, "Why is this river holier than others?"

Today Dr. Kumar lectured on that issue. The river (like a girl child) is born in the Himalayas, then is a laughing child, then a maiden, then a mature woman and more sedate as it reaches the plains, then ages and ends as it enters the sea.

She told us about the god Shiva and his wife Parvati, "daughter of the Himalayas."

Last night on the river there were 6-8 open burning fires at two crematories. People surrounded each fire on a platform. I was told not to take photos... these are funerals. The ashes will be thrown into the holy river.

"Have you attended a funeral there?" I asked our guide.

"Yes," she said. "My husband died in Varanasi."

"Oh, I'm sorry," I answered and stopped asking questions.

We watched a Hindu worship service, five priests in orange each with an altar, waving incense and other things, then went to a restaurant.

Then we rode home in open-doored autoritas, smaller than the carts in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, three in back, I wedged into the front seat with the driver, bracing myself with my knees against the dashboard and gripping the car's side, trying not to fall out as we dodged cowsm motorcycles, and foot-deep holes in the narrow road.

We passed people sleeping on carts in front of their small shacks. Our driver woke some of them up asking for directions to our NIRMAN guest house.

I took a rickshaw to get to a computer... now will take a rickshaw back, hoping the monsoon rains don't start before I get to the guest house.

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