Uttarakhand Diary of an Israeli Traveler
by Assaf Patrick
14.9. 94 Laxman Jhula, ‘Yom Kippur’ of Israel
Some 5-6 kms on the outskirts of Rishikesh, I am at Laxman Jhula (swing), a suspension bridge across the Ganga river along the old route to the holy shrines of Badrinath and Kedarnath. While Rishikesh town, situated at the confluence of the Chandrabhaga and Ganga has long been a spiritual centre, Laxman Jhula for Israelis is a place of tranquility and deep-fasting. In Israel they call it ‘’Yom Kippur,’’ the day when Jewish people have to beg God’s forgiveness for their sins.
Specially popular among young Israelis, thousands of youth visit this place every year. It is the evening time and with the erratic power supply in the region, the all out ‘andhera’ has engulfed this small township when we hear the shouts of ‘’Jai Uttarakhand’’ from a distance. Unaware of any political movement in the region, I think the crowd is of the faithfuls as the word ‘Jai’ is often referred to Hindu Gods in India.
But soon after you can hear them shout louder, moving with the rhythm of huge drumbeats, a large number of demonstrators at the top of their voice reflecting a sense of deep anger and firm determination. The blood freezes for a moment, but immediately fear gives way to a new sense of realisation, about a unique vision of a political protest – ‘’Jai Uttarakhand’’, a movement on the bank of holy Ganga.
Not knowing anything about the political history of this otherwise beautiful region though, I feel there is something in the slogan which is burning like a flame inside and becoming a symphony of so many voices as the mighty river flows not so quietly just below us.
18.9.94 Jai Uttarakhand merges with Jai Kedar
Watch them shout ‘’Jai Kedar’’. They are not political activists. They are the devout Hindus who have traveled from far off places to visit this shrine at the head of the Mandakini river. ‘Jai’ seems to be an eternal ritualistic code here; down in the Himalayan foothills of Laxman Jhula and high up around the snowy peaks that surround Kedarnath.
Its 18th of September and shifting from somehow politicised meaning of ‘Jai’ (Uttarakhand), I have moved towards deeper or spiritual meaning of ‘Jai’ (‘Jai’ means victory) to the holy site of Kedarnath, an 8th century temple dedicated to Shiva, the victorious of all. Its strange. The pilgrims are shouting ‘Jai’ and the rhythm is quite similar to the ‘Jai’ slogan of politcal activists.
While Politics and religion seems to have merged in high Himalayas, or may be politics begins with remembering Gods here, I can feel that in this ‘Jai’ there is something missing , or may be there is something more, higher to this. It seems deeper and tranquil, unlike the slogan which seemed like the burning of a flame.
The ‘yatris’ seem to be deriving greater devotional joy shouting ‘Jai Kedar.’ We are told that many people have walked on foot all the way to this shrine. While climbing up the hill, we meet ohters, coming from Bombay in a ‘’semi-deluxe’’ bus, throwing themselves on the porters’ back. No wonder they still have the strength to shout fiercely "Jay Kedar".
After 5 hours of climbing at a height of 3500, my lungs start whistling as I am surrounded by a breath-taking view. An agile old man passes through me, his body moving with a remarkable rhythm. He smiles at my youthful but suffering face and I get my first insight into the notion of "shakti of bhakti". I am forced to think that he might be whistling "Jay Kedar" for weeks while walking on the road. He is going to meet with Shiva-Bhagvan, so no wonder his movements are like that of a "chanchal" mountain goat.
Few minutes to sunset. We are close to the top. I am longing for a cosy bed. With all my respect for Shivaji, I think his ‘mandir’ can wait for me till morning for ‘darshan.’
Its 6 o’clock in the morning and the mercury refuses to move up. Frozen cold, but I’m eager to watch the sunrise and attend the morning ‘puja’. The massive grey rocks of the mandir reflect the early morning glow. Outside the sunshine is beautiful and inside the mandir you can feel an aura of austerity created by ancient grey rocks.
The conical rock in the sanctum is the idol and outside the temple door stands tall a large statue of Nandi (the bull) as guard. Where are the jolly colors of Kalka-ji mandir that I had seen in Delhi? Instead of ‘somras’ (liquor offerings to god, especially at Kalkaji mandir in Delhi), people are offering rice and water for the sacred stone.
No wonder Shiva had taken refuge in Kedarnath in the form of a bull to elude the Pandavas. As a westerner, for a moment I feel like a pagan in this simple ceremony.
It’s time for me to worship the god of sleep. I go back to my bed murmuring ‘Jai Kedar.’ (........Continued)
By Assaf Patrick
(Assaf Patrick is an Israeli journalist who has traveled through many parts of India and Uttarakhand.)
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