Wednesday, October 17, 2012

HOLY... WAT...errrrr!!!

Do you know this woman in the picture above ?... Surely you do if you live in India... She is just a pious devout soul taking a dip in the holy water... However looking closely at the items floating in the sacred stream will surely make rational souls scream “What! Errrr… “
India is the country over a million forms of Gods and Goddesses.  In each part of the country a particular deity is often considered most important and worshiped piously. These religious rituals take form of festivities and celebrations that unify the community in general. In Bengal the most important celebration is Durga Puja. The nine days long puja starts with Mahalaya on which day is customary to perform tarpan, a ritual to show respect to one’s deceased ancestors.
This Mahalaya (i.e. 2 days back) I chanced to go to the river Mahananda at 4:00am while the tarpan process (a religious offering for ancestors) was being made.  A crowd of people waited patiently to take a dip in the ‘holy water’. 
To understand the ritual better I decided to follow on particular random person, Mr. X.  After slowly making his way to the river bank Mr. X chose a Pandit (Hindu priest) for himself. I looked around to find the entire ghaat filled with ‘Pandits’ clad in orange, with tattered bundles of hindu religious texts in their hands. Carefully Mr. X took off his pants and shirt and placed in a neat stack. Then he waded his way into the sacred river. As the Pandit started to explain through a beautifully written passage about the significance of taking a dip in the ‘pure’ ,’pristine’, ‘holy water’ of the river, the statistics showing Mahananda as a river with one of the highest Fecal Coliform level (Central Pollution Control Board, 2010) started haunting me. I stared at the water that looked pretty murky. “Maybe it’s just the rain that has turned the water muddy”, I consoled myself.
In accordance to the ritual of tarpan Mr. X took a fistful of water and chanted a few Sanskrit mantras and poured the water back into the river as a offering to the deities. As he poured the water I watched in surprise as a plastic bag full of garbage floated right past him. Mr. X took up a fistful of water and emptied it into the river again... this time the an empty toothpaste tube floated past him,  ironically the toothpaste brand advertised of its 24 hours protection skills. Before I could react Mr. X had started taking dips in the river, which by now I was confident was anything but ‘pure’ as empty cartons continued to float all around him.  
Right after Mr. X left the spot ‘purified’ by his dips in the holy water, a woman (picture above) took her place. Exalted by the opportunity of taking dips in the pure water, she took the ritualistic bathing to another level all together. She pranced about in the water for some time, offered her prayers and then decided to gargle and wash her face with the ‘holy water’, all while a black plastic garbage bag floated by her side. This was all that my weak stomach could take. I left the spot that instant, both horrified and amazed.
Every year thousands of people take these ceremonious dips in this highly polluted water but yet hardly have we ever heard of cases of serious illness caused by the same. Whether to be shocked by the state of awareness about public health or to be amazed at the power of belief is up to the reader. But one thing is for sure, had I been the one taking the dips I would have definitely prayed to God

“Aise jagah pe dubkiya laga rahi hoon ... bhagwaan bacha lena(God please take care of my health) .... Holy Wat.... errrrrrrrrr”

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