Friday, February 19, 2010

A few more Haridwar pictures

One of the things that I liked in Haridwar are the buildings. There are many graceful homes, ashrams and temples. I did not take many photos of these, unfortunately, and so the two that I have posted are rather a poor sample.

This building is freshly painted for the Kumbha, but I like that traditional balcony. The streets themselves are nicely paved and quite clean, at least in this part of town, which is close to the railroad station and therefore has most of the hotels. But near the Ganga there are many, many ashrams. Maybe next time. As I already said, my battery died and I was unable to go on taking pictures.

The picture above is of a dharma shala (a low-cost hotel for pilgrims) on the main street going by the railway station.

Iskcon has a big pandal right near the main bridge crossing the Ganga to the tent city. They are sending out this ox-cart with a dozen or so brahmacharis to do kirtan through the town. This is just next to the above building.

There are police encampments all over the place. Various different army and reserve police forces are present ensuring the safety of the event. This particular encampment is nicely arranged with even lions at the gate. There is a kind of rock garden at the entrance also holding the flag, etc.

I was joking that the police and soldiers were acting just like sadhus--they are living in tents without women, decorating their camps with the insignia of their platoons and so on. I really got a laugh the next day when I heard one soldier greet another with the expression, namo narayana, which is the standard sannyasi greeting.

A closeup of that lion.

Everyone is getting into the act. Near the new two storey parking lot on the far side of the highway and at the edge of one of the tent cities, I saw these poor children carrying stones. They were building a kind of shrine with a sadhu picture they had found. There are several tent cities for beggers and sweepers as well. This locale is actually a shit-field.

A nice newer part of town, which has been built up since the 50's is the area surrounding the Sapta Rishi Ashram. I did not catch the name of the ashram where these figures of the Pandavas and Draupadi on their way to the Himalayas were housed, but I thought it worth photographing. The dog, as you Mahabharata fiends may recall, was actually Indra.

Some baby donkeys... Even donkeys are cute when they are very young.

This 50-foot Shiva statue standing by the Ganga is one of the tourist attractions of Haridwar. There is a nice walk from here that takes you to Harki Pauri. They are currently painting it in preparation for the main events of the Kumbha which appear to be taking place in March.

I just had to include this underwear model. Some of those Indian mannequins really get to me.

Radhe Radhe!!

Haridwar Sadhu Posters

The Kumbha Mela is really a sadhu convention. And that means lots of advertising. Haridwar is cluttered with hundreds of billboards advertising the coming of various sadhus and sannyasis, whose large pandal tents are dotting the tent city that is the Kumbha Mela. I started to photograph as many of the signs as I could, much in the way that a 10-year-old collects bubble gum cards, trying to get a full set. Unfortunately my battery died and I had no recharger with me.

Here are some of the highlights.

(1) This is a poster for Sri Panchadasa Nam Juna Akhara. Haridwar has a number of Akharas, which are maths or ashrams, or central seats for different sampradayas of sannyasis. I am not quite sure of the relationship of these lineages to the Shankara dasanamis. I talked briefly to one sadhu in the tent city and he explained that this specific line was descended from Dattatreya, the avadhut mentioned in the 11th canto of the Bhagavatam.

The akharas award the title of Mahamandaleshwar, as can be seen on this poster. The Juna Akhara sannyasis all seem to have the Giri title, as with Devananda Giri on the right here.

(2) This poster was in the tent city in the Juna Akhara section, but he does not state that affiliation. Mahamandaleshwar Swami Viyogananda Saraswati of Ishavasyam Ashram at Gangotri, which has a branch at Haridwar.

(3) This is the ubiquitous Pilot Baba. He has literally hundreds of posters. His pandal is up and he is one of the first to really make his presence felt at the Kumbha Mela. I did not go to see him, but I hear that his claim to fame is that he gets buried alive for days at a time. He has a Japanese woman disciple who has learned how to do that as well. A giant billboard was standing at the entrance to his camp. He is also apparently a part of the Juna Akhara.

(4) This poster shows the iconography of the Shanti Kunja or Gayatri Family (Parivar). These people are extremely visible and active. They have a huge property on the Rishikesh-Haridwar Road that extends all the way to the Ganges in the Saptarishi Ashram area. This property has a large number of multi-storey apartment buildings as well as a fairly modern university.

The goddess on the billboard is Gayatri and the Gayatri mantra is around her. They post little stick-its with rather anodyne slogans on them in all the buses and trains. Like the one here, "Man is not a slave of his circumstances, but their controller and master." One fruit juice vendor in town had one of these slogans pasted to his cart. It said something like, "Never forget that you are the most important person in the world." I kidded him about it, but he was pretty juiced up about it. The founder is the rather uncharismatic looking Sri Ram Sharma, who has written numerous books that I have not read.

(5) This nicely touched up photo of Avadheshananda Giri is one of the more common around town. He is a Mahamandaleshwara, but does not advertise his affiliation to an akhara. Avadheshananda has written numerous popular books that are sold at almost every popular outlet for religious books. He appears to be a popular kathaka.

(6) Probably the second most numerous in terms of billboards is the following one of Ramananda sampradaya acharya Swami Narendracharyaji Maharaj. His signs all say "The Hindi Religion is in Danger." All the signs give a different reason for this danger. I am sorry that I only have this one, as it would have been good to catalog all the reasons given. This one says, "Our Hindu brothers do not get religious instruction in childhood." This is followed by the rousing, "Rise up! Step forward! Protect Dharma!"

(7) Ravi Shankar of "Art of Living" fame is one of the top gurus in India. He is from Bangalore I believe. He is here advertising "Maha Rudra Puja" which is shown in the picture.

(8) Hands down winner in the billboard competition is Soham Baba. This poster is in Hindi ("Stop Global Warming"), but he was the only advertiser who was more frequently spreading his message in English. He really touched all bases and seems to really be out to save the world. We got a good laugh out of one poster showing him giving sandesh from a typical Indian sweet box to a docile line of African villagers dressed in their tribal costumes. Another notable billboard shows him walking in Holland past a windmill being followed by a small crowd of Europeans. Yet another shows him in the middle of a crowd being flanked by two very sinister looking white bodyguards. This man is pushing for the top... He has a mission! He is also Juna Akhara.

There are plenty more and maybe I will go back and collect some more.. We still have a couple more months of Mela.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Haridwar Waterfront

I just thought I would post these pictures showing how Haridwar has arranged its Ganga area. It is quite nicely done. This first picture is taken from the gondola lift to Manasa Devi. You can see the old Ganga bed on the far side and the canal segment running next to the town. The main highway runs in between the two waterways, but there is also a nice green park in that space. The main Kumbha Mela tent city is on the far side of the bridge that crosses the Ganga to the upper left of the picture.

This picture is taken from the Hardwar city side looking toward the above mentioned green area between the canal and old Ganges bed. Ghats line both sides of the canal.

This image shows a painted slogan on the ghat wall. It says "India's soul resides in its holy places. The development of the holy places is India's development."

Looking upstream from a bridge, the name of which I forget. There are quite a few bridges crisscrossing the canal portion of the Ganga, which is where most of the bathing goes on. Many were built just for the Kumbha and most are for pedestrian traffic alone. Most come to bathe at Harki Pauri, which is in this direction but cannot be seen on the photo.

Looking downstream from the same bridge. The park is on the left side.

Another view from the same ghat as above.

Here is a scene of the original Ganga bed, with donkeys bringing stones across.

On the whole, I was quite favorably impressed by Haridwar. Clearly a great amount of money has come in for the Kumbha Mela, but the money appears to have been well used. There are still spots that are glaringly unkept, but much of the riverfront is in good condition and is being kept clean.

If only Vrindavan could be kept so nicely.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Shiva-ratri to Neelkanth

On Shiva Ratri, a group of students and I decided to walk along the forest path leading to Neelkanth. You have to take the road across the Barrage, through Rajaji Park about 10 kilometers and then, not far from Ram Jhula, is the path that goes up the hill. Right at the junction of the road and the path, there are a number of langars, or places distributing free food to pilgrims. A right royal mess it was too.

We crossed that block and started heading up. It was probably another ten kilometers walk, nearly all uphill.

The path has been nicely constructed, avoiding the long, 35-km route by car, which follows the Ganga north from Laxman Jhula and then winds through the mountains. But many people try to go more quickly by taking these shortcuts. These people are coming downhill. Giancarlo and I tried going up one, but found that the expenditure of energy was so much greater that it was not worth the savings of time. Getting old, I am.


Here you can see a picture of the road as it looks for a lot of the way. There are much steeper parts of course, some of them with steps. Most of the people were in small groups, but occasionally there were bigger ones, shouting the cry, "Bom bom Mahadeva!!" and so on.

There were many spectacular views of the Ganges and Rishikesh town to be had from the mountain. The day was hazy and even a few drops of rain fell.

These Hanuman monkeys sit quietly on the trees over a pretty steep cliff. You can see the Ganga in the distance. This point is actually looking down over the Swami Ram Sadhaka Grama, but the camera could not get that kind of closeup.

The view after you get over the hump. My camera is not that great so I could not get a closer shot of the Neelkanth temple itself. It is in the lower left hand side of the picture. At the top of the hill is an ashram. The fields are nicely terrassed and there are crops growing in the lower areas.

This is the lineup waiting to get into the temple. It was about a 75 minute wait. After a 4 1/2 hour walk.

This is a kind of an encaged pathway channeling pilgrims into the temple.

This shows the Neelkanth temple from inside the encaged pilgrim channel. People tie the colored string as the pray for boons from the deity. I don't recommend going on Shiva Ratri, as the guards and police push you through the temple so quickly that you barely have time to even pour water on the linga. As a matter of fact, Giancarlo told me afterward that the linga had been removed for some reason.

The walk was nice, but the maintenance is pretty poor, in the sense that there seems to be no cleanup and people are throwing plastic cups, bags, bottles and other garbage all along the way. In some places, the hills are so steep that it may be impossible to ever remove it at all. Certainly, though, for such a beautifully scenic walk, it is a shame that there is so little consciousness of preserving the natural beauty. The samskara just isn't there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Events at S.R.S.G.

AHYMSIN has been having a bit of a reunion, a "gathering of the Sangha" at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama for the past couple of weeks. It is a bit difficult to keep up with everything, so I am going to just give a brief summary of three notable entertainment programs.

First item: Barun Kumar Pal. He has made his mark with an instrument of his own creation, named by his teacher Ravi Shankar, the "hamsa-veena." He is very highly acclaimed, and deservedly so. Has played for the Queen and Prince Charles, etc., etc.

He played both in the classical style and a more modern composition, which he played with the accompaniment of two of his students, who played the flute.

The next night, we had the pleasure of hearing a violin recital by Alexander Jablokov, a Russian living in Slovakia at present. He spoke in German, with translations from his wife. He played several short pieces by Telemann, Bach and Paganini. His explanations were humorous and very enlightening.

The only picture comes off the internet I am afraid.

The final night was the best of all, in my opinion. The daughter-in-law of one ashram resident, Prakash Dixit, Astha Dixit, came with her guru and a group of live musicians to give a very professional recital of kathak dance. Her guru's name is Harish Gangani, who comes from a long line of kathak dancers. The musicians also included a couple of his nephews, who were very, very good.

Gangani began the recital, then Astha Dixit followed. He followed a set pattern of pieces. I have to say I found it quite exciting. I like kathak the best of all Indian dances styles. Gangani made it all look so easy and graceful. There seems to be less artificiality in the expressions and the mudras.

Astha did a dance in which she played the role of Radha telling Krishna to stop flirting with her. I really got into it.

She also did the set pieces, reciting the bols and then dancing the steps that imitated the sounds.

They concluded with a duet. Unfortunately I am not competent to comment with anything more than to say I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Radhe Radhe.

Photos by Giancarlo Colombo.