From Haj To Haridwar - Part II
(Here is an invitation from Haridwar to attend the International festival on Yoga, Culture and Spirituality from March 8 - 10)
We now move from my trip to the most Holy Muslim place to one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage spots Haridwar
While officially the town is named Haridwar, when you arrive at the train station you feel the presence of “Har” immediately as you see that gigantic Murthy of Lord Shiva towering over the town. But beyond Shiva and Vishnu, it is Mother Ganga who takes center stage at Haridwar. The devout flock to take a dip in Her Holy waters. Gangaji ki Arathi that takes place at “Hari ki Pauri” each evening is quite a sight to see. It is believed that after Sagaramanthan when Lord Vishnu was carrying Amrit to the Gods, a drop of it fell at Hari Ki Pauri. Shiva Puran also states that Daksha’s annihilation and Sati’s sacrifice happened in Haridwar. The Dakshaprajapathi temple situated on the banks of the Ganga is the exact spot where this event is supposed to have happened.
As a Shaivite Tamilian and a Bharatanatyam dancer I often felt that Shiva is worshipped more in the South. There are grand temples like Tanjavur, Chidambaram and many others dedicated to Lord Shiva. While Haridwar did not have any grand temples like in the South, it is very clear that people here consider Him central to their prayers. Considering that this town is a haven for Yogis it makes sense that presence of the Supreme Yogi is felt everywhere in this place. Unlike the South though Lord Shiva is dressed in very pretty clothes at many temples, many of which are of recent origin.
In my husband’s family who for generations were settled in Dera Ghazi Khan (now in Pakistan) the trip to Haridwar was supposedly a compulsory annual event. Every time they visited they would perform prayers and would enter the details of their prayer in a guest book at the home of the priest. It was a great way to track geneology and even today the priests bring out the ancient logs of visits. To know that you stand and bathe in the same spot that their ancestors did for hundreds of years was indeed special to my children.
Hardiwar has many wonderful Ashrams established by great Yogis. We were blessed to have the opportunity to visit ShantiKunj established by Pandit Shri Ram Sharma Acharya. The home of Gaythri Parivar this place has over 5000 - 15000 visitors a day all of who receive free meals. Shantikunj itself is of course an absolutely amazing space. A mini city it runs with clock precision and has done so for years. Seeing the Akhand Jothi , a lamp that has been continuously been lit since 1924 was divine as was the Darshan of Didi and Dr. Pandya, the daughter and Son-in-law of Guruji who manage the Ashram.
Pandit Ram Sharma Acahrya is also the founder of a fantastic and unique university called The Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya (DSVV). DSVV has been developed on the education pattern of Nalanda Takshila where there is a revival of Rishi Traditions and spiritual ambience which is enmeshed with high quality contemporary education that hopes to provide skill training of commercial value while placing a great emphasis on life management skills and scientific spirituality.
We were welcomed into the guesthouse at the University, which is next door to Shanti Kunj. We began our journey with a meditation and prayer session at the open air amphitheater style temple with a very special Shivalinga at the center. The experience was simply beautiful. One could feel the presence of Lord Shiva. The beauty of the whole University is almost indescribable. Rarely have I seen such a campus. The gorgeous landscaping include many a rare herbs and a few Rudrakha trees.
“Scientific spirituality denotes successful spiritual approaches that have undergone evidence based testing as per the scientific method” said Prof Abhay Saxena who is the head of the Computer Science department. The university offers a range of courses including Cultural Tourism, Yogic Sciences, Rural Management, Clinical Psychology. Currently they have roughly 800 students all of who board at the University. There are no fees charged to the students.
A typical day at the University begins with a Gayathri Yagna at 5:30 am. In the cold winter with temperatures in the 30s, where there is no artificial heat it was not easy to get up and be at the Yagna at this time and yet we were amazed to see almost all students present and ready to perform the Yagna with smile and sincerity. The facilities at the University is very state of the art with computer labs, language labs etc. The University attracts a lot of foreign students who benefit greatly from the complete immersion experience.
Unlike students at colleges in India where students often look to “skip” classes or are not fully involved in the coursework, students here seem to crave learning. The women particularly were very dynamic and even though their English may not be perfect, very were eager to communicate with us.
A professor of cultural tourism was kind enough to take us to Rishikesh. Our first stop here was Vashisht Gufa , a cave on the bank of Ganga where it is believed Sage Vashishta was born . It was pristinely beautiful. We walked down to Ganga our Cultural Tourism guide, led us through a meditation session on the bank of the Ganga. To sit and meditate at a spot where, Sage Vashishta , the Guru of Shri Rama used to sit was a moment that our entire family especially my children will treasure for ever.
The University has a lot of foreign students who live in comfortable and safe settings while getting a wonderful Indian cultural experience and learn a variety of subject from Ayurveda to Yoga to Rural Management.
We visited a most unusual Goshala or Cowshed. It was unbelievably sweet smellingT When we enquired we found that the cows are taken of here as per dictates in the Vedic literature. Yagnas are performed for the welfare of the cow. The cows here were taken care like one would one’s mother and the idea of “Go-Matha “ was bought alive to us.
We cannot describe a trip to Haridwar without mentioning the food. We were privi to some of the most delicious Jelebi for breakfast each day. We were treated to the delicacies of the famous Chotiwala restaurant.
The great Adi Shankara, who is the very incarnation of Lord Shiva says “ Bhagavad Gita Kinchida Deeta , Ganga Jalalawa Kanika Peeta” . Going to Haridwar and Rishikesh, seeing the clean waters of the Ganga drinking a drop while immersing ourselves in the spiritual ambiance created by centuries of Tapsaya by crores of Rishis, we could feel a sense of rejuvenation.
So here it is to the Supreme Yogi - Har Har Mahadev!
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Prayer in Rishikesh at the spot where supposedly Sage Vashishta was born
After a Yagna at 5:00 am in the open air at Shanti Kunj with Sanjay Saxena
Standing on Lakshman Jhoola
Ganga Aarti at Hari Ki Pauri
DSVV University Campus
Open Air Medidation Mandir
Temple with the Akhand Jothi
Rudraksh tree outside our room window