Incredible Haridwar,Rishikesh and Lakshmanjhula Part 2: A Temple Travelogue

This is the second part of my mom’s Haridwar travelogues. You can read about the first part here. This section gives an interesting insight into temple or religious tourism in India …

“PART-II

Har-ki- Pauri is the most important and auspicious river bank of the River Ganges in Haridwar. There are many temples on this bank. It is said if one takes a dip in the Ganges beside Har Ki Pauri bank, all his sins of seven births will be washed away.

This is not the first time that I had come to Haridwar. We had come here quite a few times when I was young. Nothing much seems to have changed here. The only exception is that I could not find the huge fishes in the river by the side of Har-Ki-Pauri, whom we used to feed previously.

Both side of the Ganges, in Har-Ki-Pauri are cemented. It has quite a few stairs going down to the river. You are supposed to take off your shoes three step ahead of going down to the water as the river is supposed to be a deity. The water is ice-old and has swift currents in it. No one is allowed to go beyond a certain point in the river due to the fear of drowning. Another beauty of Har Ki-Pauri is that people float flowers and lamps in small bowls made of sal leaves, when dusk sets in. Those floating twinkling lights look wonderful in the water. They are supposed to be offerings for the Goddess Ganges.

We too floated lamps and flowers in the water praying for the peace of the soul of my father who had passed away very recently. I offered a prayer for my husband too.

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Floating flowers at Har Ki Pouri

Sitting on the stairs of the bank, I became a bit pensive and philosophical as I remembered how about half a century ago, almost at the same place place, my father poured Ganga water over my head as I was too scared to go into the river. Looking at the swiftly moving water of the Ganges, on that Sravan Purnima (full moon) night, I realized our life is also like the swift current of the water. Once it passes by, it never comes back. That night in Haridwar, I felt the blessings of my father in the form of cool breeze and moon rays.

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The Ganga at Har Ki Pouri

I was called out my reverie by Sid and went up to the bank. The whole place was very crowded. In one place, under a tree, we saw a few sadhus or Naga babas sitting in a circle and having charas. They were almost naked and smeared themselves with ashes. It was a bit scary so we moved away quickly.

As it was time for ‘aarti’, the people were made to sit in a place near the temples. A few men were collecting money for the ‘evening prayer’ and announcing each and every donor’s name. We too offered some money. They gave us a money receipt which was also a coupon for free dinner.

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A few commandoes, on the on the bridge, were watching the crowd with pointed guns.

Very soon it was time for ‘aarti’. It was held in the open space, on the bank of the Ganges. What followed next was a memorable experience! Outside all the temples, the priests started performing ‘aarti’ simultaneously. ‘Aarti’ is done with bronze lamps in a lamp stand. Each lamp stand has several rows of lamps.

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Aarti at Har Ki Pouri

As the priests started performing ‘aarti’ by moving their hands, the lamp stands looked like balls of fire. The lamp stands were so hot that the priests covered their hands with red clothes and their co-priests kept pouring water over the hands of the priests to cool them.

The whole place started reverberating with the sounds of the bells, drums, conch shells and chanting of mantras/hymns. People started shouting loudly, ’Jai Ganga Mai ki Jai’ and ‘Har Har Mahadev’! (paying obeisance to Goddess Ganga and Mahadev). Not only that, people started singing prayers along with the priests by clapping their hands. We too started singing with them, ‘Jai Jagadish Hare, Swami Jai Jagadish Hare.’ The whole place was illuminated with the light of the lamps. The reflection of the light fell on the water too. Such was the atmosphere that I became one with God. It was a wonderful spectacle.

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Har Ki Pouri in evening

Whether you are a Hindu or not, whether you are a believer in God or not, you must at least once see this evening ‘aarti’ on the bank of Ganga in Har Ki Pauri. If one can go to Bunol in Spain to see ‘la-to-matina’ festival paying through ones nose, why not see this grand spectacle near home?

After ‘aarti’, we visited the temples of Balmiki, Bhagirath, Goddess Ganga, Lord Shiva etc. Inside the temples, the priests gave us ‘charanamrita’ (a mixture of milk, honey etc with which idols are bathed). We touched it on our heads and offered coins for the puja.

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Temples at Har Ki Pouri

As we were quite hungry, we went to look for a restaurant. In the land, adjacent to the river bank, we saw rows and rows of shops selling usual items sold in a pilgrimage site.

We went to a restaurant and ordered for ‘chole’ (‘ghugni’ in Bengali) and ‘bhature’. Each table had a two kilo jar, full of pickles. The hot food arrived on the table. The ‘chole’ was just excellent. I had never tasted such tasty ‘chole’ in my life.

There were many varieties of sweets too. But we resisted over temptation, each for a different reason.

It was already 9 PM so we thought of going back to the hotel. On our way back, we saw many pilgrims sleeping on the river bank. I wondered how these men could lie there braving cold breeze and intermittent rain. Then it occurred to me that, after all, religion is a great motivator all over the world.

We reached our hotel by hiring an auto rickshaw. Next morning, we filled ourselves with buffet breakfast and then got ready to leave the hotel. Our train was at 2.30 p.m. So we hired a car for half a day for sightseeing.

Manasa Pahar/hill is one of the most important places in Haridwar. There is a temple of Goddess Manasa on the top of the hill. I recognized it the moment I saw it from distance. As a sprightly young girl of thirteen/fourteen, I had climbed this hill with my father. I remember even today that there was a small temple, with very clean surrounding, on the top. The cool breeze soothed our fatigue. Now a days, you can go there even by cable-car. However, we could not make it this time.

After leaving the hotel, the driver dropped us before a six-storied building named ‘Bharat Mata Mandir’. We took the lift to reach the top. On the top floor, there were various idols of Lord Shiva. The next floors were dedicated to different incarnations of Bishnu, our national leaders and lady goddesses respectively.

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Bharat Mata Mandir

Everything was going on smoothly till we came to the floor dedicated to the ‘Satis’. Hope you remember, previously in India, women were made to burn themselves in the funeral pyres of their husbands. They were called ‘sati’. This custom continued till the British rulers came to India. British rulers, along with social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, put an end to this tradition.

In this floor, there were idols of different ‘satis’ starting from Queen Padmini of Chitor in Rajasthan to the latest ‘sati’ of modern age. Queen Padmini, along with other women of Chitor Garh, committed ‘sati’ to save their honor from the conquerors.

This ‘sati’ counter reminded me of Roop Kanwar, a young Rajput girl, who was persuaded to burn herself in the funeral pyre of her husband in a village named Deorala in Rajasthan in 1987. I remembered how in 1987, the whole of Calcutta University was up in arms to protest the death of Roop Kanwar. This ‘sati’ counter left a bitter taste in my mouth. I fretted and fumed for quite a while and then left the place.

Our next stop was ‘Lal Mata Mandir’. There was a huge statue of Goddess Ganga on the top .This building had only two floors. First, we went upstairs and saw the descent of the river Ganga from the mountains to the land. Inside the temple, we saw the idols of Goddess Jagadhtri, Ram, Sita and Garuda, the legendary bird of ‘Ramayana’.

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Garuda at Lal Mata Mandir

The driver took us in front of a building named ‘Pawan Mandir’. He said everything in the temple, including the idols, was made of glass. But we did not get down as it was raining very heavily. Moreover, I still had that bitter taste in my mouth due to the ‘sati’ counter.

After sometime, Sid and Soy got down at the bank of Ganga while I stayed in the car. I saw a few men taking away gallons of ganga water from the river. In all the shops, there were white plastic containers for the pilgrims to take away water from the river Ganga as Ganga water is considered indispensible for any Hindu Puja.

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Sid enjoying the rain & the Ganga

We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. In front of the restaurant, I noticed a huge ground, where many people were going in. On asking the waiter, we came to know that there was a pool named ‘Bhim Goda Kunda’. The name of the pool rang a bell in my mind. I remembered having seen it before. This pool was made when Bhima of ‘Mahabharata’ struck the land with his knees. It is considered auspicious to take bath in this pool as it is filled with Ganga water. I requested Sid to go inside just for five minutes as we were getting late for the train. We went in hurriedly for a few minutes and saw a mini pool where many people were bathing. All around there were shops selling different things.

The return journey by the ’Haridwar Ahmedabad Express’ was quite comfortable and we reached Old Delhi Station in time. From there, it took only 45 minutes to reach Gurgaon by cab.

We enjoyed our trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh very much and came back with happy memories. It is true that the experiences were different from the ones that I had in the continent or in the Scandinavian countries. The roads were not well metalled. Nor were the people suited and booted. But still India has its own charm. The religious fervour of the pilgrims and the sadhus/saints will take you to another world.

Moreover, as you go up to Rishikesh, the scenes become breathtakingly beautiful with high mountains and the river Ganges. It can vie with any foreign country.

The best bet will be to stay in between Haridwar and Rishikesh. There are many five star hotels and resorts in this stretch. You can go up to Rishikesh and enjoy the serene beauty of nature or go down to Haridwar and see the wonderful evening ‘aarti’. I am sure, quite a few of you have already visited Haridwar and Rishikesh. If not, you may feel inspired to visit these places. You will not be disappointed. After all, India is incredible! Any feedback will be most welcome.

Good bye.”

R.K.

Kolkata

23/10/2011.

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