River Jordan and a Hindu ritual
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River Jordan and a Hindu ritual

Renuka Narayanan narrates her divine experience at the river side.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2006 12:59 IST

The Christian season of Lent is on now, the forty-day period that began this year on Ash Wednesday, March 1, and will end on April 15, the day before Easter. Lent is counted, I’m told, omitting Sundays (which commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus). This period of soul-searching originates from earliest Christianity. By observing Lent, the Christian symbolically re-enacts Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days.

I can’t but think of the moving experience of finding myself three months ago in the starkness of “Bethany over the Jordan”, a short drive from the Dead Sea. We saw the excavation of the actual site where John the Baptist is believed to have baptised Jesus and wandered through groves of thorny tamarisk down to the River Jordan. Across the bank, flung up amidst the rushes, was the flag of Israel, while we stood on the Jordanian bank, about twenty feet away. This then, was the Ganga of Christianity, whose water was sent specially for baptisms in the royal house of Spain.

What does a Hindu do by a holy river? She instinctively folds her hands and chants the only river prayer she knows, in honour of this one: Gangecha Yamunechaiva Godavari Saraswati/Narmade Sindhu Kaveri, jalesmin sannidhim kuru (O waters of our sacred rivers, give me sanctuary). She scoops up river water in both palms, pours some on her head, scoops again and pours it back, attempting arghya, the elemental rite of connection in which nothing is added, nothing taken away but touching the pravaha or flow of belief.

Watching my antics wistfully were three elderly Australians. When I raised an eyebrow, they nodded eagerly and came as close to the slippery riverbank as they dared. Behold then, a Hindu running up and down with Jordan water in her palms to pour on Christian heads, murmuring “God Bless!” and getting emotionally hugged. You felt “bathed in the Spirit of the Lord”, as though Jesus would appear any minute through that wilderness. Perhaps the quiet gladness of this darshan was a gift of the holy river?

First Published: Mar 20, 2006 12:59 IST