Hotels in India »  Pilgrimage Tours India » Rishikesh City of Renunciation

Rishikesh City of Renunciation

Have you ever heard of a place on the globe where renunciation is a way of life. Where life is more lived in its leaving than its clasp?

The river Ganges is regarded as holy in India. And, as it flows out onto the parched plains leaving forever the secure embrace of the hills, it is thronged by thousands of men and women gathered from many countries at Rishikesh. The river waves have woven their presence into the lives of the people as plaits braided in the hairdo of a sage. Not many know that the name of the town denotes the hairdo of a saint. Rishikesh (rishi:sage; kesh:hair) is something as meaningful as that which is carried aloft on the head of a sage—like ancient wisdom contained in knotted thoughts. Brahman, Vishnu, Mahesh, the three lords of the Hindu pantheon live at Rishikesh—in the vermilion marks pasted on the forehead of the devout; in the shlokas and mantras recited by the faithful; in the regimen of asceticism followed by swamis; in the ritual bath undertaken at the banks of the river early morning, worshipping the sun, in the pravachan (address) discharged by the guru; and even in the pure vegetarian food which is consumed by the township.

Over-enthusiastic pandits (priests) literate the souls of the dead to a possible union with the spirit (parmatman). Others are content with dips in the icy waters, convinced that their sins have been carried away by the holy river. More involve themselves in ceremonies. This soul-cleansing may satisfy the ordinary toiler but not the seeker of truth. The truth beyond all existence, past all comprehension, is a subject to be dabbled in at Rishikesh—exploring the frontiers of spirituality, much above the ordinary plane of life and the visible.

Along the two banks of the eternal river Ganges are organized ashrams—large pockets of asceticism in the city of Rishikesh. Steps leading to the river, called ghats, have a role to play in each man’s life. Humanity descends to these steps at the break of dawn to worship the rising sun. Surya Namaskar, a puja (worship) of the sun lord is rendered by the devout, standing in the flowing water. The others make good at different times of the day till night fills up the waters. The current of the river dulcifies as if in pacific obeisance to the night. The sheet of black becomes a still picture of reflections. Prayers and hymns said from the banks match the slow but sure progress of the waves, both of which move unseen under the surface, towards their final destination.

The two suspension bridges across the river bind more than two banks. The are man’s link to legend. The one upstream called Laxman Jhula, at Tapovan, was originally a rope-way strung across in 1918 with the riches of Seth Surajmal Nagarwal of Calcutta. Laxman, the younger brother of Sri Ram, is believed to have crossed the river here on a jute rope. Locals believe that he performed a tapasya (meditation) at this place. More than that, a huge rock in the midst of the bend in the river upstream, is reputed to be a well called Pandav Kuan. The unflinching faith of the residents holds that just across this well, there was a cave on the east bank hill. This cave led to the secret route which the Pandavas took to cross the Himalayas while ascending heaven. Whatever it be, truth or fiction, the belief is as perennial as the river. In earlier days when pilgrimage to Badrinath Shrine was done on foot, a devotee had to cross Laxman Jhula, and traverse 125 km of hill route before he met his deity.

The floods of October 1924 washed away the fragile link. In 1927, two and a half lakh silver coins donated by the earlier named devotee, saw an iron bridge erected at the same site. The construction was mastermind by Chief Engineer Mr. P.H. Tillard, and executed by Superintending, Engineer. Mt. E.H. Cornelius. The inauguration of this 450 X 6 ft bridge took place on April, 11th, 1930. The other one at Muni Ki Reti, 3 km downstream, is a later version. As people trundle the boards of the bridge, its swings gently, as if giving a spring to the gait. Crossing the bridge is best understood here, both literally and metaphorically.

Across the swing is a street by the river which leads to many ashrams. Here people live with minimum needs and maximum religiosity. The funny and awkward have also surfaced to quench the temporal hunger of the superficial tourist. A man dressed as a Hindu priest in yellow apparel, chest bare, covered with vibhuti (wood ash), vermilion marks on forehead, sequins pasted in a pattern on cheeks, and significantly a huge choti (stiffly tied erect pony tail), is an advertisement for a restaurant. The fare is local and delicious, especially the sweetened lassi (curd milk). There are many more advertisements that excite the humour palate. One proclaims that “Astrological gemstones are sold here.” The other is about any one requiring the services of “Witch doctors.” Then another markets “Curries cooked according to Ayurvedic rules—Indian, Chinese, Continental. The list includes “Pasta and Shepherds Pie too.” Trained chefs could well learn a lesson or two in Ayurvedic cooking!

Past ancient houses with stone windows you come to Geeta Bhawan and Swarga Ashram. Both have their own literature and a discipline of religiosity. Those who have renounced everything live here in worship and peace. On the west bank is the Divine Life Society. Talk to a swami in chaste English on spirituality, or meditate quietly, or alternatively sit in a chant when puja is rendered. One can join the society for a short-term course on meditation, yoga or theology. The founder, Swami Shivanand is no more, but the holy work goes on. In one prayer hall, chanting is continuously in progress since 1943. Interestingly, all religions of India—Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity are represented in this prayer hall through photographs of founder saints. Just outside, a pillar has teachings of all religions etched on its stone. Divinity is not bound by the parameters of one religion—perhaps, that is the message intended to be conveyed.

The most popular object at Rishikesh is the rudraksha. This is the fruit seed of Rudraksha tree (Elaeocaraus sanitro). It is believed that rudraksha was created from the tear-drops of Lord Shiva, which fell on the earth at the time of slaying Tripurasura demon. It is found only in Nepal, Indonesia and in India in the Garwhal Himalayas. This comes in various designs—ekmukhi (one-faced), domukhi (two-faced), and so on up to a fourteen-faced seed. The most rare is the one-faced, which is believed to grow once in eleven years on a tree. It is reputed to be possessing remarkable qualities to cure blood pressure and other ailments if worn around the neck and suspended to touch a particular point on the chest. It is also reputed that the rarest, the ekmukhi, brings good luck and is a charm against all evil. Sages and swamis also use it as a bead garland, running fingers in a count, as the recite mantras.

Rishikesh is 245 km. from New Delhi. You can also alternatively take a train to Haridwar 24 km short of Rishikesh.

¤ Ajmer Sharif ¤ Amarkantak ¤ Amritsar
¤ Bodhgaya ¤ Chidambaram ¤ Chitrakoot
¤ Dargahkaliyarsharif ¤ Dharamsala ¤ Dilwaratemples
¤ Dwarka ¤ Gangasagarmela ¤ Garhwal
¤ Goa ¤ Guruvayur ¤ Hardwar
¤ Jageshwar ¤ Jambukeswaram ¤ Jambukeswaram
¤ Kailashmansarovar ¤ Kamakhya ¤ Maheshwaromkareshwar
¤ Mathura ¤ Parashuramkund ¤ Pilgrimagecenters
¤ Pilgrimagesofsikhs ¤ Rameshwaram ¤ Rishikesh
¤ Sabarimala ¤ Shatrunjayahill ¤ Shivapur
¤ Tawangmonastery ¤ Thirukalikundrum ¤ Tirupati
¤ Travelofgods ¤ Trichur ¤ Tripureshwari
¤ Tungnath ¤ Vaishnodevi ¤ Varanasi
¤ Vrindavan ¤ Yamnotri