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India: meditating at sunrise beside a holy river

May 17, 2010

meditation on the banks of the holy Narmada River, Maheshwar.

The Narmada

forms the traditional boundary between north and south India. Considered extremely holy by Hindu people it has been said that just the sight of the river is enough to wash away all sins. There are 7 holy rivers in India: Ganga, Yamuna Indus and the mythical Sarasvati in the north. While in peninsula India is the Narmada, Godavari, and the Kaveri. The Narmada divides north and peninsula India

Devotees tell me that where the holy Narmada flows only Shiva is worshiped – for he is the only god who has the tranquilly to calm her.

Parikramavasis

is a thousand-mile circumambulation of the Narmada, takes 3 years, 3 months, and three days to walk. It is a spiritual quest, self realisation, a thanksgiving for favour asked for or received, or just an act of love: there are just as many reasons to do the walk, which starts and finishes at the mouth of the river, as there are people who do it and the Narmada is the only river where a parikama of the entire course is performed.

In ‘Sacred Virgin Travels along the Narmada’ by Royina Grewal (whose own journey began in 1993) says “depending on where you meet her and how, the Narmada can mean different things to different people. For the many turbulent stretches, she is called Rewa, derived from the Sanskrit ‘rev’, to leap. Of her many names, this is my favourite. But she is also called Manananda, who brings eternal bliss, Rajani, the spirited one, and Kamada who fulfils desire; Vibhatsathe the terrifying one and Manasuardhini who craves the lifeblood that she has nurtured. Ferocious, insouciant, benevolent.”

Gondwanaland, as it moved north collided with the Central Asian landmass – this gradual convergence thrust up a range of mountains from the sea and caused volcanoes to eject layer upon layer that built another range of mountains. Between the two, a rift valley was created – narrow and deep – through which the Narmada flows over some of the oldest rocks in the world..

Shrines line the river.

From a piece of sculpture daubed with orange propped up against a tree or wall through to big temples. People revere their river yet wash, spit and void bodily wastes into her.The ghats below the palace are place for daily rituals for locals and have memorials to the widows who died on their husbands’ funeral pyres?

On the ghats – facing east and often waist deep in the water –  Hindus recite sacred verses, often from the Gayatri Mantra, the oldest of Hindu hymns – mother the Vedas – often at the end of each chant they offer the water, in cupped hands or in a container/ brass urn, to the sun – pouring the water out.

India is vivid and varied a melting pot of religions and peoples coming from central Asia, Mediterranean and the middle east, and where public rituals are expressed with a fervour often not seen in the mostly secular ‘west’. Hinduism is numerically the strongest  and oldest religion. Taxis, buses and trucks all display images of the one of the pantheon of  Hindu divinities, including the amorous Krishna, bloodthirsty Kali, or  the elephant-headed Ganesh

The wandering dependant or beggar, is considered to be one of the 4 stages of life during which a person learns life goals and the means of achieving them. Clad in saffron or sacking, they seek gifts of food and money to support themselves in this last stage of life, although many young men do the same and most have given up all material possessions.

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