I wrote about bringing Lance’s ashes to Varanasi and how powerful that was for me to release them into the river.
Now on to Rishikesh, a lotus of a place, nestled on the banks of the Ganges, in northern India. The water is cool and clean, with sandy swaths of beach and many ashrams and temples along its edge. There is something very peaceful and sweet about this small city and the slower pace is a welcome retreat.
When we arrived at our hotel, our amazing host, Govind Agarwal, had arranged for our group to have a special blessing by priests. As each of us entered the yoga room, we were given a special necklace of marigolds as the priests chanted.
Red paste and grains of rice were put on our foreheads and prayers were offered to Durga (the mother of us all), Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles) and Shiva (Destroyer of Ego and one who sits in deep meditation.) One group member said she felt “home” as soon as she heard the powerful chanting of the priests. The acoustics of the yoga room made me feel as if the mantras were vibrating through my chest cavity and opening my heart.
Have you ever said “yes!” to something because you felt it in your body, even though you had no idea what it was? Months ago, back in the US, Govind had suggested having a ceremony for our ancestors on the banks of the Ganges. Ever since he mentioned it, I became instantly attached to having it. In fact, during the entire trip in India, my intention was to cultivate an attitude of surrender in all things, which I accomplished for the most part, but I stubbornly remained attached – like a barnacle on a wooden boat! – to 3 things: the sunrise boat ride in Varanasi (which didn’t happen, so obviously I need to go back), the ceremony for our ancestors, and the dipping in the Ganga.
The morning of the ceremony, Govind walked us down the marble steps that literally disappear into the river. The 3 priests were waiting for us accompanied by various bathers, curious onlookers and sadhus. We took our seats on the marble, facing the river.
The priests put sandalwood paste across our forehead. We offered prayers and offerings to the river, giving thanks for those that had come before us, honoring our lineage and speaking our ancestors’ names aloud.
I had brought a small vial with me – the remains of my beloved grandparents ashes – unsure of whether I would be willing to part with the last physical remnants of them. As I prayed, I knew with an inner wisdom that in the releasing of this ash, I was surrendering to the pulse of the universe, letting energy go into the flow of the river. “Harold…Hazel” I said out loud as the priest poured milk into the jar and I tipped it into the river. For the rest of the day, I experienced an uplifting of the spirit that was tangible and a peace I usually only feel after meditating.
Days later, Govind’s lovely wife, Bindia, graciously accompanied us to an area of the Ganges where we would dunk in the river. The symbolism differs for everyone, but for me, it was an opportunity to “baptize” myself – to submerge myself 7 times, one for each chakra, in the holy river of unconditional love. To cleanse myself of my sins, and to be born anew. Returning to India, and bringing a group of women to India, had been a dream. Now it was time to recognize that I had realized a dream come true and honor that part in me that had heard the call and said yes to it. To realize that there are endings and also beginnings in a pilgrimage to India. I was consciously saying ‘goodbye’ to aspects of myself, and experiences from the past 2 years. In submerging in the river, I was also saying ‘yes’ to whatever was wishing to be born in me – perhaps aspects or ideas that I am not even aware of yet consciuosly, but the seeds have been planted.
Several of us were called to dunk in the river that morning and it was a powerful experience for all of us. Much gratitude to Bindia who held our hands (with teeth chattering!) as each of us took the plunge. Afterwards, we lit incense and made offerings to the river in thanks for her willingness to take us – the shadow and the light – and wash away our impurities and leave us refreshed and renewed.
I have so much gratitude for this journey and for all the ways I was able to be in sacred ceremony with the holiest of rivers – Mata Ganga – the Mother Ganges. Sharing these experiences with this group of women has made it more potent for me and these memories live on in my heart and mind. And oh Mother India, I will return! Deep bow.