April 2014 takes me to the Ghat (banks) of River Ganga at Rishikesh.
As I was changing my clothes at the steps of the Parmarth Niketan Ghat, after bathing in the Ganges, I noticed a foreign couple stepping in on the Ghat. The guy was well built. His lady friend was sitting on the steps while he went forward for a dip in the Ganges.
I thought of warning him about the strong current and that it might not be safest to enter without holding a chain. As he was about to enter his back was towards me. I saw his fair-coloured back full of tattoos. A prominent one amongst them was a large “OM”. I don’t know why, the large tattoo on his back made me feel that there was no need to warn him, as somehow that made him mature enough to understand it. Instead, I chose to watch him enter the river without holding onto the chain. Mentally, I started working out what would be the best way to save him, just in case he is pulled by the current.
He entered the river and its strong flow of water. He balanced well for a few steps into the river. He stood facing East, the direction from which the Ganges was flowing towards him. He bent forward, put his feet back and in a matter of seconds took a sleeping position. He went under the water level a couple of times, each time for a minute or two. His head was towards the East.
Clean, clear transparent water was flowing over his head, back, hips, and legs; flowing away from his feet. I had been observing over the last few days, the different ways in which people took a dip in the super-cold Ganges. However, the feelings was different as I saw this man takes his dips.
After the dip, the guy walked up to sit next to his companion. I could not resist and disturbed him.
The first obvious question was, “Where are you from?” He said “I belong to the entire world. I have no permanent home to say this is where I come from and this is where I live.” For the last seven years he had traveled between Russia, Nepal and India, most of which he had spent in Nepal and India. Though he liked Nepal, he liked India the most and would prefer and love to stay in India.” To me, it looked like he was born in one of the countries from the Soviet Union. I would call him Russian for easy identification.
Just at that time, someone, a simple Indian with his family, who was also keenly watching this foreigner with an “OM” tattoo, interrupted.
He asked the foreigner, “Excuse me. Can I ask you where did you get this Om tattoo?” The foreigner replied, “It is irrelevant, where I got it done. What is relevant is the presence of Om vibrations on my back all the time”.
The Indian said his interest was to know whether it is a temporary marked OM or etched permanently. He said “Nothing is permanent in the world, but this ‘Om’ is. This will be with me as long as my body lives. Om will stay as long as my body stays in this universe.”
The Indian said “I have some expertise and knowledge in Tattoos. I cannot believe how artistic and beautiful this one is. Origin of Om is in India, but such quality tattooing in my opinion cannot be done anywhere in India. If at all it has been done in India, I would be interested to know where”.
The visitor replied, “One of my friends in Russia is a tattoo artist and we were together for some time. He had tattooed in Russia.” He further explained, “In their early literature, Russians had reference of Om in their meditation. Om is also well-accepted and respected in Russia. There are many similarities in the Russian and Indian cultures.”
The discussions then developed to how the Russians know so well about “OM” whereas it is supposed to have originated and developed from India. The Russian said “OM” is equally well-known in Russian countries as per their scriptures (equivalent to the vedas).
They went on to discuss that long time back, India and Russia did not have a border between them. Only later, politics separated them. Hence most of the culture and traditions between India and Russia are the same. It is because the cultures, attitudes, feelings and thinking are similar that Indians and Russians are so fond of each other.
I remembered my early years when India, under Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi as the Prime Ministers, was very close to Russia. During war against Pakistan and China, while super power USA supported the latter, the other super power Russia supported India. That Russia might enter the game to support India kept USA away from joining Pakistan and China.
As these thoughts crossed my mind, I asked the Russian what I really wanted to ask, “I really get worried and unstable when I enter the strong water current of the river. How come you could manage so easily and reach a comfortable position.” He said it was easy. The water had a high current flow but was not very deep. He bent forward so that he could hold some stones. Once he got that hold, it was all easy. He said he lied down for a purpose. I asked him “purpose?”. What could be the purpose except that people go down to take a dip in anticipation of washing their sins and going towards Moksha. His answer was surprising.
He said, “The flow of water is nothing but energy. More so with River Ganga. Amongst water flows, it is a proven fact that River Ganges has the highest flow of energy. So when I lie down in the water with head towards the inflow of water current, the energy is passing through the top of my head, through the face, neck, shoulders, arms, back, spine, legs and finally through my feet. By the time water passes through the feet, the entire body is purified; the negatives drain out and new positive energy flows in the body. This is the energy which gives ‘life’ to the body which otherwise is just a skeleton.”
Author: Badri Baldawa
Editor: Meeta Kabra