Geographically speaking, a Conflux is a point where rivers collide. Atleast that’s what our eyes see.
Much like our meetings where it’s more about a greedy ME! ME ! ME ! hogging the limelight and less about a healthy exchange of ideas; when rivers come together, there is a fierce struggle of identities. What lies beyond the obvious is loss. Pain. Gain. Freedom. And Nirvana.
The battle renders them hopelessly losing the sense of their ‘self’; their name and their unique character. Which is what makes confluences quite distinct and sacred even, especially in India. Because beyond the visible loss is an invisible gain. When a wildly turbulent Alaknanda meets the calm, emerald waters of Bhagirathi, The Holy Ganges is born. The soothing One tames the hostile Other. The tumultuous One becomes joyously buoyant. The restless One bows down to the Other’s tranquillity. They merge, adopting each other’s inherent temperament, becoming One, knowing that their ultimate destination is the same. Oneness with the ocean.
They shed their pride to gain humility. Their individual sorrow dissolves in the joy of becoming a collective, that propels their journey towards the ultimate oneness. Freedom from being a lone one to the ONE. Letting go of their smaller self’s to gain a higher Self and finally the Highest. Nirvana!
You see? A river is no different from you or me. Isn’t our goal in life to become our Highest Self? Merge with the ONE( God?).
No? Err…I guess it is only for odd balls like me.
The road to Badrinath from Kedarnath is a gruelling, perilous journey through many river confluences; each with its own legion of legends but ending with the same moral of the story. Let go of your rigidity. Loosen your stronghold. Keep dying to your past. Keep moving forward. Keep flowing…
If only we could do it all with as much beauty, élan and grace, we would all be free from our own demons. Wouldn’t we?
These confluences on my way to Lord Badrinarayan seemed to be the truest of all marriages. Where one simply dissolves when merging with the other. It’s impossible to separate the two from that point on…do human marriages ever come close? I guess not. What with our massive ego’s we guard so well like a fortress unfit to be razed to the ground…
The devastation of the previous year’s floods had led to massive landslides and a complete wash out of many roads up the mountain. As the Volvo moved up, the dangers of indiscriminately slicing and carving up a mountain became clearly visible. My jaw dropped to the floor each time a hair pin bend approached. There was barely ground for 2 wheels of the bus to move past it. The entire journey, I spent terrified, my heart racing like a Formula One car on a rampage, sitting on the empty aisle seat beside mine. Most of it was covered with the bus hovering on the edge of the patched up road held together with nothing but faith and prayers. While the bus took a multitude of turns balancing only on its inner wheels, I caught a glimpse of the treacherous valley beneath me and the river far down below snaking its way past anything that hindered its path to attain liberation. Even affixing my nose on the window panes bus would topple over the bus or so I naively assumed!
Nature was taking root everywhere oblivious to the mighty bull-dozers and the many men scattered around them, cutting up trees, flattening the land and laying new roads. As every hour passed and the altitude began to rake up the miles vertically upwards, the glass of the windows became smokier with dew drops splayed all over them and the temperature inching closer to zero.
Since the floods cut short the tourism season of the previous year and fear run abound unheeded, except for the State run Dharamshala, no other hotel was up and running. As the bus zoomed past the gates and parked on the large parking area, the sun set and along with it the temperature dipped like it was no one’s business.
Some hot tea and sizzling fritters brought back our bodies to their senses and the entire group took off to explore. As a couple of old ladies held on to me for support as we climbed the various steps going up and down and up again with the river roaring below I could almost hear our bones rattling and teeth chattering. I had worn every piece of warm clothing I owned looking like a colourful Matryoshka doll and yet I wasn’t anywhere near warmth.
From 3°C at sunset the temperature fell further later at night which was incidentally also the night of the total lunar eclipse. Sharing my cold, cold bed were a group of spiders guarding their eggs. It was a night to remember since it was the coldest night of my life. For hours I simply lay on the bed waiting for the alarm to go off since I couldn’t feel my feet or face or anything at all except the chatter of my teeth all night long.
The Badrinath Temple is one of the 108 holiest shrines dedicated to Lord Vishnu located on the banks of the Alaknanda river at a height of over 10,000 ft above mean sea level. The gorgeous Neelkanth peak stands guard behind the temple. Below the temple are a group of hot sulphur springs which maintain a normal temperature of 55 °C (131 °F) while the outside temperature keeps varying.
Although the origins of the temple are unknown and legends account for many, Lord Vishnu is seated here in a very unlikely pose, even for the Lord. The Padmasana also known as the meditative pose in Yoga. A simple, small idol made of shaligram* stone with closed eyes, blissful yet aware of the churning of the entire universe. For the first few minutes I wasn’t sure if it was Lord Vishnu or The Buddha, what with some accounts claiming that Badrinath was a Buddhist Shrine before it was established as a temple.
There is a certain serenity one finds in certain places of worship, no matter which religion lays its claims on them. Badrinath possesses that essence. A peace that is unparalleled. Nestled in between snowy peaks, hidden from the world for most of the time, buried under tons of snow, with the turbulent waters of the Alaknanda frozen below, the Lord in solitude meditates.
What I remember the most are the humble people amongst whom the Lord resides, the humbler priests who distributed plates of food for free to the pilgrims and a shopkeeper selling trinkets.
I saw. I stood transfixed. I fell in love.
Not with a human. No! not with a dog. The one that stole my heart was a small idol of Lord Vishnu in Virat Swaroop*. Buying the idol would have forced me to sell my kidney. Maybe not…but yeah maybe my blood for sure. Many bottles of it! While I stood there immobile, unable to peel my eyes off Him, the pot bellied shopkeeper in a playful manner pointed to my phone and asked me to take a picture for keepsakes.
“So what if you can’t have the idol betaji, you can always have Him with you.”
Sometimes the biggest of life’s lessons come from the most unimaginable of places. In a nutshell, the humble man who could never have possibly even heard of Kahlil Gibran said what the great Lebanese poet said almost a century ago.
In that tiny moment, Time stopped being a solid concept, dissolved itself and became fluid for me, in which, words, thoughts and ideas of then and now collided and became One.
Time is but a Conflux too, where moments collide to create…err Time! What else?
To be continued…
Virat Swaroop* : Vishvarupa (“Universal form”, “Omni-form”), also known popularly as Vishvarupa Darshan,Vishwaroopa and Virata rupa, is an iconographical form and theophany of the Hindu God Vishnu or his avatar Krishna. Vishvarupa is considered the supreme form of Vishnu, where the whole universe is described as contained in Him.
Shaligram* : Refers to a fossilized shell used in South Asia as an iconic symbol and reminder of the Lord Vishnu as the Universal Principle by Hindus of Vaishnavite and Smarthist sects. Shaligrams are usually collected from river-beds or banks such as the Gandaki River in Nepal.
Betaji* : Elders call kids or anyone younger than them with this endearment.