Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keeping Warm By Faith Alone

It was really cold by the river in Gangotri. The glacier, from which the river issues is only a few kilometers away. Gangotri is the conventionally agreed upon source of the mighty Ganges river. Most of the visitors referred to the river only as Ganga Mata (Mother Ganga).

The water from Gangotri is revered by many. We wanted to carry some of it back with us and bought a small translucent jerry-can. At the riverbank I walked down the steps (called Ghats) to the river. The water was the color of milky tea and was flowing with great force. We had to always stay inside the chains that were installed all along the river so that the bathers didn’t get washed away.

As a mark of respect everyone removed their footwear before approaching the river. I carefully placed one leg in the frigid water, bent down and quickly filled a 1-liter water bottle and the small jerry-can. It only took a few seconds. But when I tried to walk back up the ghats, I realized that my foot and my hand were frozen stiff from the cold water. I had to repeatedly kick with my ankle and flex my fingers for several minutes to get them warmed with the circulation.

I had a new-found respect for the bathers all around me. They would so casually pour jugs of the freezing water on themselves. The elderly men would strip down to their shorts. Many were frail with their ribs visible. The women bathed fully clothed for the sake of modesty. These men and women, with no hesitation, repeatedly dipped their steel vessels into the frigid water and poured it on themselves.

It occurred to me that only way they were able to endure the bitter cold had to be their unshakable faith in their Ganga Mata -- that the river goddess would take care of everything.


  1. I have always found the strenght of people's believe in Ganga fascinating.

    I think you are correct. It must be the strenght of that belief that all of those people don't die of pneumonia or something.

  2. Theres an excellent description of this theme in Pirsigs Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance. In the context of a pilgrimage that he/Phaedrus took in India, he distinguished ego climbing vs devotion/spiritual climbing of a mountain. He finds that although he was generally fit, he could not complete the journey in contrast to the old and not so fit who did the journey out of devotion.

    When I read the ZMM passages, it was a great source of inspiration for me and a keen insight that I have personally benefitted from.