SHIVA (HIS HOLY RIVER MOTHER GANGA)
The River Ganges, more than all other rivers, has inspired the hearts of the Indian population through the Ages. The uncounted millions who have prayed on her banks and bathed in her waters from the source to the sea, tell the colourful story of India’s spiritual quest.
In the ‘Brahmavaivarta Purana ’, Shiva said of the Ganges: “She is the source of redemption... Heaps ofsin accumulated by a sinner during millions of births are destroyed by mere contact of a wind charged with her vapor... As fire consumes fuel, so this stream consumes the sins of the wicked.’’
Not only is the Ganges said to cleanse both body and soul, but also to have unusual properties of self- purification. In the city of Varanasi thousands of people drink water directly from the township; yet it is surprisingly rare to hear of the kind of epidemics one might expect. Neither do the numerous partially cremated and rotting corpses floating in it seem to make its water a hazard to health. Hindus attribute this fact to the river’s divine essence, which is eternally pure.
The source of India’s holiest river is a particularly sacred pilgrimage place. Situated between craggy Himalayan peaks, the river bursts out of a glacier at Gaumukh, the cow’s mouth, and rushes down towards Gangotri, the last resting place for pilgrims before the ascent to the source. Some people travel for months carrying bedding, cooking pots, offerings and religious books on the journey of a lifetime, the climax of which is the ultimate holy dip at Gaumukh.
En route to Gangotri pilgrims visit the Kedar- nath glacier, the birthplace of Mahadakini, another sacred river which eventually joins with the Ganges and is also the site of one of the twelve great naturally formed Jyoti linga, famed throughout India. Yamnotri and Badrinath with its beautiful hot springs are visited in the same spirit of devotion.
About three hundred miles from its source, the Ganges breaks out of the Himalayan range and enters the Indian plain at the town of Hardwar, the gate of Shiva. Many holy men and revered saints live in the forests of the area.
For the devout, a visit to the four Dhams is considered essential to their religious life, these are Badrinath in the North, Rameshwaram in the South, Dwarka in the West and Puri in the East.
One can only admire the aged and infirmed pilgrims making their way resolutely step by step up the difficult mountain paths, chanting praises to the Lord. Staff in hand and a small bundle balanced on their heads, they leave their homes and families to realize the final aspiration: a visit to the four holiest places in India and a bath in the icy waters at the sacred source of Mother Ganga.