By the time our boats hit the banks at Ganesh Ghat near Goleria Kothi, it was early evening and we were really late for our lunch. A cold wind had started to blow, and a soft mist had descended on the opposite bank of the river making it difficult for the eye to see very far. All of us were cold and hungry and yearning for some hot food.
We were greeted on the ghat by the sound of conch shells, trumpets and drums. Liveried staff ran hither thither to serve us hot tea and snacks, which were eagerly pounced upon by hungry children and adults alike. Most of the women and children were attracted towards the twin stalls for henna and tattoo art which had been set up on the ghat by the hosts.
Vaishali and the kids, and Swati, and Sudipa dumped their bags on a few chairs arranged neatly around a rectangular glass-topped table, deputed me to guard them, and rushed off to their respective errands – either to the snack bar or to the henna stall. As I stood near the table, I noticed a couple of boys set up a band on a small platform at one end of the ghat and start to tune and test their instruments. The guitar strings were tightened, strummed and then tightened some more, the keyboard was tested, and the lead singer checked the microphone and hummed a few lines to warm up.
I stood near the band, looking out over the river into the beyond, and zipped my jacket close – it was getting cold. Rummaging into my bag, I brought out a cap made of rabbit’s wool and used it to cover my balding head. With my jacket zipped close and my head now warmed by the cap, I turned around to see the band break into a song. The lead singer had a melodious voice and the sweet music reverberated inside my heart, making my hair stand on end. I closed my eyes for a moment, letting the music wash over me, and then opened them slowly.
The river came into view, majestic, ancient, swollen with the Himalayan waters; the mist rising from her ancient waters and also descending from the skies to meet somewhere in the middle. Shrouded in the mist the river flowed stately, somberly, quietly, like she had flown for millenia, nourishing millions of insignificant humans on her shores and also carrying their sewage to the seas. She had sheltered their Gods and given rise to their legends. Cities had grown around her banks, civilizations had risen and fallen , Kings had lived and died, empires had come and gone, but the river still flowed, in a crack in the Mother Earth, carrying waters from the majestic Himalayas to the north and joining the ocean in the Bay of Bengal – the lord of all rivers, male and female. The river was the real deity, the real Goddess, she was the one who resided in the locks of the Mahadeva Shankara, giving him the epithet of ‘Gangadhar’.
It was this river, this Mother Goddess, this living deity, the nourisher of civilizations that I now saw in all her majesty – and the world fell away.
I was aware only of the music notes, dropping into my soul and the river which flowed in front of me – rest everything disappeared. In that moment of magic, I became one with her, one with eternity. Through my bodily eyes I saw a solitary boat meander in midstream, like a lost soul, through my mind’s eye I saw much more. I saw eternity, I saw the river washing the banks of the eternal city of Shiva, the city which the learned say is the center of the world. I do not know, I am no expert, I am aware of only my ignorance, my insignificance, my ‘littleness’ in this ‘vastness’ of things. In the larger scheme of things, I don’t matter, the river told me.
‘Yes Mother’, I said, tears rolling down my eyes. I submitted, closing my eyes, bowing my head, and she showed me the truth. The truth which people come to Banaras to see, the truth which is revealed to those who give up their souls on the banks of Ganges in Varanasi. It is said by those who know, that in the last moments of their life, Rudra comes and whispers the truth in the ears of those who die in Varanasi. I do not know if this is true or not – I only know what I saw, what I heard. The river and the boat and the eternal sound which poured into my soul – the sound of the universe, the pranav, the omkar, I heard it!
‘You are sleeping,’ Vaishali said, breaking my meditation. I looked at her blankly – the Mother had receded!
To be continued………………………………….
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