Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath

Last Sunday, I was very lucky to experience a sacred river festival celebrated by the Hindu organisation Hindu Prachar Kendra called the Ganga Dhaaraa Teerath.
According to Creedopeida The Ganga is personified in Hinduism as a goddess: Maa Ganga (Mother Ganga).When Bhagiratha, one of the descendants of Sagara, son of Dilip, learnt of this fate, he vowed to bring Ganga down to Earth so that her waters could cleanse their souls and release them to heaven. Devout Hindus make pilgrimages to bathe in the Ganga and to meditate on its banks.But we were not in the Ganga, we were deep in the moist forest of the northern range. At the 18.5 mile mark to be exact. This festival has been taking place here for several years now and despite the pouring rain, there was a large crowd that had obviously been there from early in the morning.
In 2004, the Trinidad Guardian published an interesting story on this annual festival. Click here to read whole article.
Ganga Dhaaraa provides an interesting study in religious, social and cultural anthropology. The event is driven by an ancient memory of an event of spiritual value as well as social and ecological relevance.
This memory has been transmitted down several millennia through mantras, kathaas, songs, traditions, the deity Ganga and the event of Ganga Dashara which celebrates the coming of Ganga to earth.
Every morning the recreation of Ganga Avataran—”bringing down Ganga”—is recreated by a Hindu ritual at sunrise, charhaawaying jal. Ganga is invoked at every worship and ceremony of life. After the marriage ceremony, newlyweds pay tribute to Ganga at a river. Why, even at death, a drop of Ganga is placed on the lips of the aspirant for transport to a higher existence.
Offerings are made to the Murti in the form of food, money, or flowers. All along the river, altars have been set up to perform prayers and facilitate sacred offerings. There was a strong sense of peace and goodwill and great concentrated prayer. The Murti is carried up the river to be returned to the water. All the while, little coconut "boats" are being prepared to float down the river carrying fire and offerings of flowers and incense. At all times, powerful chants and invocations are being sung all along the river banks. The skies opened almost on cue.
Once the murti has been returned to the water, flowers and lit "boats" are released to float down the river. The message of environmental consciousness is a very strong theme. There are signs all along the river's edge that have been erected for this festival reminding devotees that the river is not to be polluted and constantly reminding of the importance of water and rebirth. There was an equal mix of men and women with lots of children brought along as well.

But women gathered in little pockets to perform pujas. While watching these women I could feel the strong matriarchal bonds that run thorugh these groups. After some of the pujuas, there was dancing among the women which was especially lovely to see.
The predominant colour was yellow. Saffron coloured clothing, saffron painted coconut shells, and, of course, masses of yellow allamanda.
I have been asked about the significance of the white dot but don't really know what it means so would be happy if anyone would like to comment on this.
This girl was particularly lovely as she made her offering.
There was a tangible sense of euphoria to this day. The power of prayer, chanting, collective gathering for goodwill is always something to celebrate, whatever our religion.