During my childhood, my grandmother used to tell me stories about people traveling miles to places such as Varanasi and Haridwar/Rishikesh to bathe or immerse the ashes of a deceased family member. These were fairytale stories for us because of the large distances people covered to perform these rituals. Varanasi and Haridwar are located at the banks of the river Ganges. To my knowledge, my grandparents, great grandparents and many generations prior to them lived on the northern most part of the province of Punjab, currently in Pakistan. The distance to places like Rishikesh and Varanasi is over a thousand miles from these areas of Pakistan. Yet, people traveled such large distances without having access to any motor vehicles. They spent days and months on their carts just to be able to take a dip in the Ganges and return home feeling liberated. What’s more fascinating is that in Haridwar, Hindu genealogy registers for all castes and sects have been maintained for centuries by brahmin priests, doubling up as genealogists. These registers contain information on your family tree, listing as many as twenty prior generations, which means these records have existed and been maintained for centuries now. Every time someone traveled to these sacred towns, either for a pilgrimage or to cremate a deceased one, it was the custom for people to report births and deaths to their designated genealogist so the family tree record is maintained. What’s more fascinating is that these records, till date, have been impeccably maintained by each passing generation of the brahmin priests without any financial motive.
As a child I regularly went to Rishikesh for holidays. The scenes of evening prayer and people bathing in the river Ganges are still vivid in my memory. The devotion shown by people while performing these rituals is fanciful and doesn’t offer a spiritual lesson; instead it fill you with joy. Our understanding comes from experiencing life and not the other way around. Without the experience, life feels empty.
Until we meet again, Namaste!