zondag 3 november 2013

Holy As In Haridwar

Haridwar is one of the holy cities, the place where Mother Ganga - like me - leaves the Himalayas and heads for the plains of India. You can tell that it's holy just by looking around. Not only are there more robed people, more beards and more people that desperately need a bath, there are also more beggars and especially more beggars with missing/deformed limbs. The reason? When people come to Haridwar to wash away their sins, while they're at it they might as well earn some karma points by tossing a few coins at an invalid. That's my guess.

In order to live up to the name of a Holy city, you need a lot of temples. And Haridwar lives up to it, oh yes.  Some are nice, most are average and the others one are absolutely horrible. The last category is the sort of 'temple'  that's more like a mini-theme park of Hindu mythology, including moving statues of the Gods and Goddesses. You can even crawl through the fakest cave you've ever seen to get from one side to the other. However, no matter how cheeky, they still make you take of your shoes.

Taking a bath in the river at Haridwar is popular, but as they travelled for many even more people are interested in taking some of some this (spiritually) refreshing water home. To cater to that need there are dozens of improvised stores selling all kinds of canisters from 500ml to ones that would hold a few liters. Joining the crowd at the ghats I got some as well (in a spare lense box). If a few hundred million people regard it as holy, it can't hurt to take some water home, can it?

When a holy city meets a holy river, there's bound to be an aarti, a river worshiping ceremony. Once you dodge the uniformed collectors asking for a donation (I fell for it the first day, as you're not that sharp after a day in a cab), join the hundreds of devotees and the handful of tourists for a moment of chanting, bell-ringing and burning torch swinging. From the opposite side of the water it seems pretty hyped though, at least when you have no spiritual connection to the river. It's more interesting when you get to the side where the priests are and you feel the warm of the flames and the religious energy. The best part it to see how other people experience the ceremony and the cultural and spiritual importance it has for Indians.

Unlike in some other countries, in India the swastika is regarded as a common symbol which stands for good luck, fortune and so on. You'll see it everywhere (clockwise and counterclockwise), on buildings, cars and even Diwali decoration. After a while you don't notice it anymore. That is until you see a bunch of trucks with little swastika's on the back heading for a place called Nazibabad. That's when that little voice inside your head says 'Waaaaaiit a sec' and you have to convince yourself it's all just a coincidence... Swastika's heading for Nazibabad, that's not that strange. Not here. Not in India.

Haridwar at sunset. With the almost empty banks of the Ganga below, as the river is diverted into multiple streams at the city, making it that much safer for pilgrims to take a bath. Also, the river needs this space once the monsoon hits.

Pictures of the Ganga Aarti, the river worship ceremony. A time of fire, chanting and the sound of drums & bells as daylight dies and the evening starts. First is from the opposite side, second one is taken from near the priests during the ceremony, third is devotees asking for a blessing from the fire.

Glass Palace, Haridwar.

The theme park like ' temple'.

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