September 21, 2008

A Morning Stroll in Haridwar and Religious Zeal


I boarded the Mussorie Express from Delhi a little before 9 pm. In the air-conditioned compartment of the train, I chatted with my fellow travellers and co-passengers until around midnight and then caught up on a few hours of sleep on the berth in the solace of pillows and blankets provided by the railways. Before long, I was in Haridwar, the place believed by every pious Hindu as the ‘Doorway to the House of the Lord.’


~~~

I am in enchanting Haridwar. The scenes I come across captivate me. I am aware that Haridwar is a place of congregation of pilgrims, yet I did not expect as large a gathering. My fellow travellers who have passed through Haridwar on previous trips explain that such a large crowd is because of the Kanwarias season.


I have to be patient and need some skill to make way through the crowded and dismal streets lined with shops on both sides. I walk along with locals and pilgrims - both young and old - and in that pandemonium, I find a cow being given solemn attention.


On another road near the bridge, I come across people being transported on all types of vehicles, many in packed buses, more in tuk-tuks, a few on scooters, and some more on moving trucks filled with cargo, and through it all, I espy police mounted on horses. Many more cover the distance by foot, and I find some eating and relaxing at road side eateries.



When compared to pilgrims, the tourists are far and few and I can recognize them easily. My slightly jutting-out elbows and backpack help me a wee bit to get a little extra breathing space as I walk through the streets with the huge mass of moving bodies. It gets more crowded as I approach Hari-ki-Pauri.

Upon reaching the ghats, I am taken aback at what I see. The ghats are bursting with bare feet pilgrims. At the Hari-ki-Pauri, I am now a witness to the ghats being witness to the most number of dips in the Holy River. I get the feeling it is not the old temples but these people who contribute to the spiritual essence of the town. In the dream-like enchanting scene unfolding before me, I do not feel am a mere bystander, instead I become a part of it.



Some recently painted while other ancient towers line the banks. Through these, I view stupefied at the sheer mass of so many human bodies conglomerated together in one place early morning.


To witness the fervor of the pilgrims is amazing. To learn about Kanwarias and their aspirations itself is a surprise to me and then to think that some of them undertake the long arduous return journey home bare feet, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles, is another thing.

I watch in astonishment as a few pilgrims go through a continuous motion of prostrating on the ground, stretching their arms as much as they can, while their partners walk alongside assisting them by marking the point where their stretched fingers reach with a wooden stick. The pilgrim then starts from the marked point onwards for the next round in the same way. All this through the thronging crowded streets. What a painfully difficult and slow journey it is!

I am more surprised to learn that this slow motion journey repeats for days, sometimes weeks, until they cover several miles traversing this way right up to their homes. Because of the drizzle, I find the ground is mucky, yet they journey home horizontally, with exceptional perseverance and steadfastness. Their voluntary doggedness is unbelievable. Their actions speak volumes of their religious zeal and devotion.

I find pilgrims in every nook and corner moving from one holy site to another. It is drizzling now but I do not bother to take cover, nor do any of the pilgrims collected there. After all, they have travelled all the way for a dip in the Holy Ganges to seek absolution.

I notice the strong flowing current of diverted section of the holy river, Ganga. As they wade into the waters, most bathers hold on to sturdy chains bolted to the concrete walls. There are a few brave souls who dare to swim! Many undergo the rituals in reverence: praying, prostrating in obeisance, dipping themselves and drinking from the holy river.


A few people are there, who have come to perform last rites of their dearly departed. Then there are some, with saffron robes and long beards living there, having broken free from the bondage of a worldly life.

I can see many elderly pilgrims. In spite of their frail health, they have undertaken a journey to their holiest place – a place they consider as the most auspicious of all lands. After all, it is the place for them where they believe Vishnu first manifested in this world. For many pilgrims in Haridwar, just being present there is a fulfillment of one of their most cherished desires. They are there to carry out their last wish to visit this holy site. Some of them are not even sure if they are capable of a return journey home. At times, death at the ghats is taken in the right stride, as if dying at the banks of the holy river is as good as dying at the doorway of Hari, as the name implicates.


The vigor and enthusiasm that I discover in the pilgrims astounds me. I watch religious fervor infusing new energy into their fragile bodies and filling them up with a certain vitality. The spirit of devotion is so visible in most pilgrims and in some, it is in abundance!

Haridwar is enigmatic!

~~~

Haridwar is accessible through air, rail and road. The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant in Dehradun, 35 kms away. It is well connected by trains to almost all major cities in India. The Mussorie Express and Jan Shatabdi train services run regularly from Delhi to Haridwar. National Highway 45 passes through Haridwar which is about 215 kms from Delhi.


Some recent related posts:

40 comments:

Arun said...

Thats a lovely write-up. Since the time I read about Kawarias a few years ago, am hoping to see some action. But getting to Gangetic Belt in the summers? Not my cuppa tea :)

Mussoorie express reminded me of my first journey into the plains of North India and then to the mountains of Garhwal.. :)

swapsshah said...

Hey... Nice writeup...

Seeing the list of your labels, I think I am gonna spend good number of hrs in office this week reading your entries... ;-)

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

Awesome captures!The dedication of the devotees is touching.

You have been to almost all the Indian states,haven't you? :)

Lakshmi said...

A very lucid and simple observation of the life in haridwar and yet, it says so much..your writing style is not just interesting, but actually takes the reader there..Hinduism they say is a way of life and I guess for these devotees, this is just not just a way, but a part of life ..

Priyank said...

Wonderfully described Cellu, I felt like I was standing there and watching, thanks to your active present tense. There are so many things in this world that are difficult to understand - religious pilgrimage being one of them to me. But at the end of all this, one cannot but bow to the sheer might and the omnipresence of spiritual energy. Great going!

Indrani said...

This is so wonderfully written, Celine and thanks for the pictures too. I don't know when I will make it there, but I must make it.

•♥•♥Vicky♥•♥• said...

It was as if i was going through the diary of a traveler.if you ask about the post i would say well written,described very well.

i live 5 hours from haridwaar have been there twice only
i am not religious--an atheist :D

when i see masses of people like that in the name of god --i see people who would do anything on the name of god...riots, killings ..so i am not really into these things.

you know what when i first went there ..i brought back a baseball bat for souvenir.

indicaspecies said...

Arun,

Thank you. It's good to know Mussorie Express brought back those memories.:)

The Gangetic belt is indeed hot in summer but the consolation is there is always a choice to make a small journey of a day or two up the mountains to end up enjoying pleasant weather there.

indicaspecies said...

Hey Swapneel,

Thank you for your visit and kind comment.:)

Do drop in as often as you please, you are always welcome.;)

indicaspecies said...

Sameera,

Thank you. :)

Except for the sisters of North-East, Bihar, Orissa, Chattisgarh, I've been to the rest of the states of India, though feel haven't explored enough. I've got to travel to lots more places including Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata.

And beyond India, to Egypt and Dubai too.;)

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

Yes, it seems Hinduism is a part of life in Haridwar.

Thank you for your heart-warming and encouraging words.:)

indicaspecies said...

Priyank,

With these words, you are kind of trying to give meaning to the incomprehensible feeling I had while in Haridwar.

I am delighted that you enjoyed the way this post has been presented, and thank you very much for your encouraging words.:)

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Thank you very much. You are always welcome:)

indicaspecies said...

Vicky,

Welcome to my blog. I've simply written my impressions of and experiences at Haridwar.

Riots and killings in the name of religion is generally done by those who are misinformed and misguided and do not have the ability to think clearly and independently. There is certainly no justification for killing another human being and surely not with the lame excuse of religion since no religion advocates violence or killing. I can go on endlessly on this topic but I'll stop.

You do not have to be religious to be a good human being. I am not a very religious person either. I did not participate in any of the rituals (if touching the waters of The Ganges is not considered as so). And I came back with nothing but memories of the place.

Oh btw, I would like to believe I'm a traveller. Thank you for your visit and your kind comment. I like to hear different viewpoints of my readers, so I hope you drop in sometimes. Cheers.:)

AJEYA RAO said...

Very nice description and pictures. You seem to have found a good spot to click the pictures to get these wide view.

indicaspecies said...

[This is my response to Zhu's questions put up in the previous post re this post]:

Zhu,

Thank you very much.:)

I do not need to be welcomed for various reasons, one being I am an Indian though I live abroad and for me, this is India. I can easily warm up to the culture of a new place. It is true I was surprised to see the huge crowd but then India is full of surprises and as I described in my post, at one point, I felt I was just another one among them and merged therein.

This photographer was, thankfully, hardly noticed as everyone was too busy in their own ritualistic world. I stopped by and chatted with a friendly policeman for a few minutes while there.

Btw, there are tourists in Haridwar throughout the year, both domestic and international and I think the locals are pretty much used to them.

indicaspecies said...

Ajeya,

Thank you.:)

I was strolling from place to place and shot these from various spots.

david mcmahon said...

Celine, your photos and your description brought us on the journey with you!

Sandi McBride said...

I have read about these wonderful cleansing religeous ceremonies all my life, and your photos made it real. I admire these people so much...thanks for the trip, I needed to go.
Congratulations on the POTD mention from David!
Sandi

Ram Dhall said...

Celine,

You have done a great job. Your post is almost a Collector’s item.
A very well narrated post and some magnificent pictures too.Your photographic eye is simply astounding.

On an official visit to Hardwar, I was a witness to one of these Yatras and would add a few words to supplement what you and Lakshmi have said.

A decade and half ago, kanwad was an obscure event. A kanwaria would pass the roads unnoticed. The pilgrimage at that time was an individual adventure. Now, it is no more so. Kanwad has metamorphosed into a social spectacle where an ocean of humanity bustles around for over a fortnight, particularly in and around Delhi.

The huge convergence of Kanwarias turn Haridwar into a saffron ocean (as you have shown in some of the pictures) during Shravan month of Hindu almanac each year.

Around a million of Lord Shiva devotees arrive in Haridwar to worship and take away some holy water of River Ganga. This water is used to perform Lord Shiva's Jalabhishek (pouring of holy water on Shivalinga) back at their respective native places.

Covering a distance of around 250 kms chanting "Bol Bum" and other praises of Lord Shiva on their way to Haridwar, the inward journey to Hardwar can be undertaken by any mode – train, bus, scooters, cycles, etc. but the return journey is undertaken on foot and enroute the Kanwarias are offered free assistance at numerous camps to bathe and rest, have food and even medical treatment.

The trek is undertaken for or on fulfillment of a wish. These Kanwarias arrive from all over Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana.

Kanwaria Mela in Haridwar is described as the biggest congregation of pilgrims after the Kumbh Mela.

Thank you for sharing this magnificent piece of writing.

indicaspecies said...

David,

I am truly delighted to hear that. I'm pleased to get a comment from Sandi that you have mentioned this post in your picks of the day. Thank you for your encouragement, as always.:)

indicaspecies said...

Sandi,

Thank you for bringing the good news about the 'Post Of The Day' mention at David's. I am delighted that you liked this trip with me.

I'll go over to David's right away:)

indicaspecies said...

Ram,

I am glad that you enjoyed this post. It's a pleasure to share.

Thank you for the additional information on the Kanwarias and the abundant compliments. I am touched at your generosity of kind words. :)

Lavanya said...

That is the atmosphere of Haridwar perfectly captured.. I was there earlier this month and ,oh my lord of the rings, what religious fervour that was. Such religious staunch faith and the rituals never cease to overwhelm me. And having made a trip to Varanasi, Rishikesh and Haridwar this year (No, I'm not on a pilgrimage :-p ), Haridwar had the best arti on the banks of Ganges.. While the arti at Varanasi was more like choreographed dance, the one at Haridwar was really very participative.. Those millions baskets of lamsp & flowers floating on the ganges, the holy dips, kids trying to sell the lamps, flowers..and you hear almost all the indian languages around you.. Gosh, overwhelming was the word.

Your post brought back all that..

Lavanya said...

Obviously I need to learn to proof read what I write :)

Btw, I took inspiration from you and tried to write a few haikus.. When I manage to overcome my shame for having come up with something so mundane, I'll let it loose on www :)

CrazyCath said...

A fabulous post, so full of excitement and the whole exhilaration of being a part of this, seeing it, feeling it, being there. The photos are fantastic - showing off the various colours to the best.

Over from David's where you got POTD. Well done and well deserved. Loads of info and history here. Thank you.

indicaspecies said...

Lavanya,

Good to see you here, and your lovely comment, which is much appreciated. I'm glad my post brought back memories of your experience. Your fabulous comment added more to describe the Haridwar atmosphere so well. Thank you.:)

*

I feel good to hear that I inspired you to write Haiku. That's truly a damn good compliment! Thanks.

Now, don't be ashamed at whatever you have created. It is an earnest effort on your part and deserves the best. Let not your modesty keep you from publishing it. So out with it, share it with us, and we shall encourage you if needed. For all you know, it might have turned out excellent.:)

indicaspecies said...

Cath,

Thank you very much for the heart warming words of appreciation. Chuffed.:)

Vinni said...

Hi Celine,

Very well written post... felt like almost being there! and I have to say with post's like these you inspire more and more people to travel.

Well the Journey is more important than the destination.. Congrats on David's POTD.

Vinni

Saibal Barman said...

Lovely sharing of a morning stroll...
Haridwar is truly a fascinating place..People believe that holy water of 3 crores streams from the Himalayas merge into Mother river here....
Ancient temples, ashramas, dharmashalas, road-side shops, beggers, idle queue of animal and human pose a perfect picture of a place with all pervading peace.
Haridham is also a sacred place for Kumbha and on both sides of rivers, some ancient places(with temples definitely) still offer exciting mythological references(particularly on Lord Shiva's marriage to Sati, Dakshajagna, His becoming Neelkantha, etc )...
Thanks for introducing Haridwar with so much of different strokes !

Luiz Ramos said...

That is the Web role. Great report.
Thanks for share your info.

indicaspecies said...

Hey Vinni,

Good to see you here. That's a nice compliment, and thank you for your wishes.:)

Your comment on journey being more important than destination reminded me of Shaan's 'Manzil se behtar lagne lage hai yeh raaste.';)

indicaspecies said...

Saibal,

Oh Yes, Haridwar is all that and there's more. Thank you for the additional information and your kind words.:)

indicaspecies said...

Luiz Ramos,

Welcome to my blog and thank you for taking time to read this post. I'm glad you enjoyed it.:)

Shantanu said...

Wonderful photo-essay. While I have been here, I have never been witness to a major festival. Crowds usually discourage me, but this seems to be something one should witness.

indicaspecies said...

Shantanu,

Thank you.:)

Haridwar is intriguing, and if you can manage the crowds those times, then you should experience it at least once.

San said...

Magnificent photographs, Celine, and your description of the fervor of the pilgrims is dazzling. They are quite literally "walking their talk."

Thank you for sharing your adventures with us. It is a generous gift.

indicaspecies said...

San,

Thank you for your reading my post and your lovely comment. Sharing what I experience, in my own humble way, is indeed my pleasure.:)

Your EG Tour Guide said...

I'm astounded by the numbers of pilgrims. This is fabulous photo essay, Celine!

Anonymous said...

I'm new here @ indicaspecies.blogspot.com and wanna say hi to all the guys/gals of this board!