For me, who yells at the top of his voice about not believing in any religion, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain why I go to Hardwar once or twice a year to witness the arti of the river Ganga which takes place every evening at sunset.
I neither offer any prayers nor subscribe to expenses of artis. I am simply a spectator, a tamashbeen. I never tire of seeing this spectacle of worship of the river with blowing of conch shells, clanging of brass gongs, waving of oil lamps over the fast moving stream to the chanting of ‘Om Jai Gangay Mata’.
I do not see it as a Hindu religious practice but a pagan ritual performed by our Aryan forefathers many times removed. They worshipped elements of nature: mountains, rivers, lakes, seas, trees and animals. I do not worship any of them but stand in awe of their majesty. I do not worship the Ganga; I have a close personal relationship with her — she is my mother, sister, sweetheart, wife and daughter, all rolled into one. Do I make sense? Perhaps not. But that is how it is.
However, this time I did pray to Ganga Mai. As the temple bells, gongs and chanting were ending and the thousands of oil lamps burning out, I joined both the palms of my hands and said to her, “Ma Ganga, you know I have never asked you for any favours. I promise never to ask you for any again. But promise to grant this one if it is within your powers to do so.
It is not for me but for my country through which you flow from the snowy Himalayas to the silvery sea. I do not think there is anything mahaan about it but main us desh ka vaasee hoon jis desh mein Ganga behti hai (I belong to the land through which you flow). It has been soiled by preachers of hate and violence. Come into a mighty flood, sweep all these evil elements into the sea and repurify my motherland.”
I don’t know if Ganga Mai heard my silent prayer. She looked dark and forbidding. If she grants me my prayer, I will return to Har Ki Pauri to thank her. If she dismisses me as a crackpot, I will still return to her banks to reproach her. Our relationship is no saudey-bazee kind of give-and-take. She is the only one in my country I truly love. Whether or not she returns my love does not bother me.