It is late evening by the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh; the river is in spate, swollen with the rains, muddy with the mountain soil that she has washed down in her rage. We are used to a romantic Ganga — this sight is new, and a reminder of the ever-changing nature around us. An old lady devoutly wades into the spate and floats a tiny oil lamp into the foam. Amazingly, the lamp stays alight for a long time, bobbing up and down, though the river is in full flow all around it. Finally it is extinguished and then washed away into the realm of memory. Tomorrow there shall be another lamp lit, set afloat and washed away.
“Ganga kinare vairagya ho jata hai, Abhyas ki zaroorat nahin padti,” said Guruji this morning. (In the Bhagvad Gita, when Arjuna asks Krishna how to quell the restless mind, Krishna says, “Either through dispassion or through spiritual practice.” Guruji was referring to the unique energy that the Ganga carries — just being on her banks one experiences dispassion; there remains no need for any practice!”)
Every morning and evening, as we dip in the holy waters, bits of charred wood, flowers and other debris float by. Some of them bump into us and then drift away as we stand waist deep in the river; they are the flotsam of the funeral pyres further upstream. “This is each one’s final abode,” Guruji had reminded us in Hardwar the other day — “Amma, Nandita, Manu… ” all our dear ones had come to rest in these waters, as will we all — some day in the distant or not so distant future…
It is hard to fathom what is going on here. The river is at once raging and churning in furious motion, and yet timeless, as she has been flowing for countless years with the same enthusiasm. Guruji is like that. As He watches the river, it is difficult to guess who is watching whom, the river rejoicing at His presence or He lost in her love. For Shiva, the smashan (cremation ground) is the place to live, to rest, celebrate, to work, to play. For us, the Ganga embodies that final resting place which is permanent yet ever new. HE is at home here, and she has a sense of purpose, a functional energy when He is near. I am aware that my sense of past and future has somehow dissolved, and yet time seems to be moving very fast. How does the Master live, I wonder. Does He have a sense of time as we do? It’s obviously just a game for Him, but Who is playing?
As Guruji sits meditating nearby, I experience a beautiful fragrance; it seems to be a mix of all the things I love. The first things I smell are incense and a funeral pyre. Then I smell flowers, then food and a hint of perfume. I look around, there is nothing close by, nor even a breeze that could have wafted these smells to me. It is changing again and seems thick and yet very very subtle — I am unable to distinguish whether it is a fragrance, a thought, a feeling, an anubhooti.