Ganga is mother, goddess. She births, sustains, transforms.
She is one, and many. She is the majestic river that journeys from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, and she echoes in the many little rivers that also carry her name.
She has nourished cities and civilisations, watched their decline, wandered across their remains, sown new seeds, revived old ones. Her womb carried stories of old cultures, murmurs of lost tongues, silences of sages and an entire history of human effort. She hums a seamless song in which Vedic mantras composed beside her merge with rustic ditties of boatmen who ferried generations across her expanse, with lullabies village mothers sing to their babies along her course.
She cleanses bodies of dirt, hearts of their burdens and souls of their sins. She is the portal between worlds, a bridge that simultaneously connects and divides the divine and the mundane. By immersing oneself in her heaving waters, one could attempt to touch the edge of eternity.
She is the sustainer of knowledge, weaving her way through time to bring the old to the new. She is ancient and contemporary...she was then, she is now. Somewhat like the land she roams. On whose earth she deposits jewels from the past ideas and icons, thoughts and texts that challenge its lethargy and impel it to think these anew, in the context of today.
Custodian and witness, she has observed the narrative of humanity unfold in suffering and hope, chaos and order, life and death. In its eternal search for something more, something beyond. Those on the inner path of truth have often found themselves in her presence, walking her shores, setting up their dhuni (sacred fire) before her.
They are drawn perhaps not just by her holiness or her legendary divinity, rather, they come to her as the guru-mother who will nurture them towards a wholeness of realisation, who will guide them onwards through her relentless flow, her eternal song.
Everywhere in India, even if it is far from her physical presence, Ganga is mother. Along with the great epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the way of life termed ‘Hindu’, her veneration could well be one of the largest signifiers of the shared cultural identity of this vastly varied subcontinent.
Like the Himalayas where she arises, Ganga Ma has embraced the wanderings of many seekers, sramanas, and given them the space, silence and opportunity to investigate the workings of mind and self. To the receptive mind, she can appear as a moving, flowing scripture.
If you sit long enough by her side, you will find the insight of inherent change, the fluidity of reality, the is-ness of being, reflected in her current. She will inspire a purging of the restlessness of the conditioned mind, and becoming a still point in the constant flow.
Swati Chopra writes on spirituality, mindfulness and contemplative practices.