I was recently able to spend several weeks in India, and while I was there I spent a considerable amount of time on the Ganga. Known affectionately as Maa Ganga, this river is considered sacred by Indians, and her healing effects are felt by everyone who meets her.
I first encountered the holy river in Varanasi, or Benares, as the locals call it. Benares is an
incredibly old city, and you can practically see its age in the water. There the Ganges is brown, stagnant, and dirty, and yet somehow still magical. We spent several nights on the water for the evening arati, and she certainly held the space for us. One morning, we got up early to get on a boat and watched the sunrise, which was a truly amazing experience. To see the locals come to the river’s edge for a bath, or to do laundry, or just to take a sip of her waters was incredible. She has so much to offer, this river.
My next real meeting with Maa Ganga (aside from a quick dip of our feet in Haridwar) was in Rishikesh. Now that we were much closer to her source in the Himalayas, she was changed. Her color was amazing – a beautiful blue-green – like I’ve never seen in any other river. Again we spent the evenings by her edge for arati, and our chanting seemed to be completely absorbed and also intensified by her.
From the town of Rishkesh we traveled north to The Glass House, which was our beautiful retreat location. The Glass House sits right on the Ganga, and we got to spend a glorious week chanting to her, playing in her, and meditating with her. She was quite rough here, and her force was one not to be played with. She demanded respect, and it was obvious that she had tremendous powers to transform, cleanse, and heal. Watching her rush by and hearing her roar is something I will never forget.
On the day of the solar eclipse, which came right after the holy night of Shivaratri, we took a dip in the Ganga. Of course I was sick with a cold that day, and her waters were freezing, but despite all that the experience was…well…indescribable.
One day we took a trip to Vasishta’s Guha. This cave sits along the river, and I found Maa Ganga’s temperament to be much different here. In this place, she was gentle and soft, quiet and nourishing. Her grace fits the scene beautifully – this is a place for deep meditation, as Vasishta and countless others have done before me. Unfortunately my meditation in the cave was long enough that I didn’t get to visit the water’s edge here, but I didn’t need to be on her banks to feel her energy. She quietly whispered to me from the mouth of the cave, and that was enough.
I spent day after day with Maa Ganga, having my chai with her, offerings her my prayers, hunting for rocks, washing my feet, shedding tears and experiencing peace. Before my trip I was holding on to sadhanas that I had been doing daily for a long time – some practices for months, and one practice was part of my sadhana for two full years. I was often times just doing my practices and no longer feeling them because they had gotten so familiar, but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) let them go. When I got to India, I decided to stop clinging and just allow myself to experience all that was being offered. I realized that so much of what I had been holding on so tightly to was simply no longer serving me. Sometimes we have to let go in order to reach for something new. It was in that realization that I was able to transform my sadhana, and experience the grace of the Divine in a different way. I have no doubt about the role that the river played in this experience.
In India, the Ganges River is called the Ganga because of the Goddess. The Goddess Ganga came pouring down from the heavens only to have Shiva catch her in his dreadlocks to protect the Earth from her unstoppable force. He released her carefully and now she flows; sometimes powerfully, and sometimes gently. She is highly revered, and it is believed that anything she touches is purified. Considering her importance on our journey and her impression on me, it is only fitting that we spent much of our time on this retreat connecting to Shakti, or the Divine Feminine. Maa Ganga has been imprinted on my heart, and will stay there forever. Our next meeting can’t come soon enough.
Jai Maa Gange Svaha!!