India Dreaming
Accounts of previous tours to India by Sundaram



Part Eight: Haridwar, “Gateway To The Lord”


Before leaving Rishikesh, we paid a visit to Sivanandashram, going first to the Satsang Hall & Samadhi Mandir, where Swami Sivananda's body is enshrined. A puja was taking place in honor of the master when we arrived. We stayed to receive the light after the arati, then circumambulated his Samadhi, took prasad & left. Next we visited the main temple, then the Bhajan Hall, where the Mahamantra (Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare / Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare) is chanted continuously 24-hours-a-day, in shifts. Toward the back of the hall is a gallery of photos of many of the great saints of our time, including our Gurudeva. The altar includes Radha Krishna, Saraswati Devi & other forms of the Divine. On one side is a bed used by Swami Sivananda with his picture on it. It is wonderful just to sit there & bask in the holy vibrations, so permeated with the presence of the master & the holy names of God.


Taking the short (1-hour) drive to Haridwar, we checked into the Alakananda Guest House on the Ganga, right next to the Keshabananda Ashram, where a portion of Lahiri Mahasaya's ashes are enshrined. Haridwar, literally, "doorway to the Lord," is called Hari-dwar by devotees of Lord Vishnu (Vaishnavas), "Hari" meaning Vishnu as the "Stealer of Hearts." Devotees of Lord Shiva call it "Har-dwar," "Har" or "Hara" being a name of Shiva as the "Destroyer of Sorrow." Haridwar is a great holy city full of many ashrams & temples, a major pilgrimage destination in its own rite & the beginning of any pilgrimage higher up into the Himalayas. The second largest of the Kumbha Melas is held here once every 12-years.


Haridwar is famous for its Ganga Arati, worship of Ganga Maiya, held nightly at Har-ki-pari Ghat. Every night ,(except for a short period during the summer when the ghat is cleaned & repaired,) thousands of devotees & pilgrims gather about an hour before sunset. As the sky begins to darken, devotees bathe & offer diyas (leaf-boats with camphor flames) to the River. Chants are played over loudspeakers, such as Sri Hanuman Chalisa & others, as the spiritual energy continues to grow. Then, just as darkness descends, numerous priests, (I have counted as many as 16), come out from the ancient Ganga Mandir carrying huge flaming ghee lamps. It appears as though they are carrying campfires in their hands! The Ganga arati song is then played over the loudspeakers while all the thousands of pilgrims join in the singing & the priests wave their flaming lamps to Ma Ganga, swooping down to just skim the surface of the water: "Om Jai Ganga Mata / Maiya Jai Gange Mata!" The spiritual vibration & upliftment of consciousness one feels simply is beyond description. You will just have to go there & feel it for yourself! In just a few minutes the Arati is over & everyone dispersses -- until the next night.


We had very little time in Haridwar on this trip, but we were able to visit the ashram of Swami Keshabanandaji, the great disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya, which was next to our hotel. The ashes of Lahiri Baba are enshrined in four places in India & this is one of them. (One is in Puri & two are in Varanasi.) Swami (Brother) Achalanandaji mentions a wonderful spiritual experience he had while meditating at the shrine of Lahiri Mahasaya here. When we first arrived we didn't see anyone around so we opened the unlocked door of the dhyana mandir (meditation hall) & made our pranams to the life-sized (& very life-like!) statue of Swami Keshabanandaji Maharaj which adorns the altar. From somewhere appeared a very sweet swami who said his name was "Om Swami," a YSS member soon to be initiated into the YSS order. We had a wonderful & very uplifting informal satsang with him while he arranged for chai & cookies to be brought for us. He then gave us tilak (blessing with the mark of the spiritual eye) & presented all the men with rudraksha malas. What an unexpected, yet thoroughly delightful afternoon. After satsang we proceeded to the rooftop shrine of Lahiri Mahasaya for meditation.


This concludes the "mountain portion" of our pilgrimage tour encompassing the first 3-weeks, the halfway point of our group tour. Now it's on to Varanasi (Banaras) & a whole new world!



Part 9: Varanasi, “City Of Light”