Different Strokes|Dec 13, 2003 6:49 AM| by:

Killing the Saviour

“Ganga is the most polluted river,” is the title of a report in The Hindu of 23 November 2003. This is not an isolated phenomenon. To speak without mincing words, the condition of this foremost sacred river of the sub-continent is symbolic of the Indian situation as a whole. We are a polluted people, in our collective conduct and in our socio-political culture.
The story of the genesis of Ganga, like that of several other great rivers of India, is simply thrilling even when we do not go into its symbolism. The story of the sacred celestial flow descending on the earth through the penance of Prince Bhagiratha, is well-known. Its power to resurrect the dead (it flowed on the ashes of the thousand Sagara princes and brought them back to life), an integral part of that story, is again symbolic. But why was the Ganga uniquely sacred, how did it come to being, are a lesser known episode. It runs like this:
Long, long ago, one moonlit night, the great sage, Narada, was returning to his celestial abode, Vaikunth, after one of his occasional visits to the earth. He was passing through the Himalayas, majestic with the world’s highest peaks and shining with gigantic glaciers from which sprang many a great river. He loved the region.
Narada was a singer. He sang as he played on his sweet instrument, the Veena. And he sang often while wandering alone in the Himalayan solitude.
Narada sang as he walked absorbed in his own performance. But suddenly he stopped, for, he was surprised to see some charming beings, both male and female, seated on a rock, as if exhausted, casting sad looks at him.
Narada tried to recollect if he had seen them before, but he did not succeed. They could not have been human beings, for human beings had no access to that region. They were not gods and goddesses either, for Narada knew all the divinities pretty well.
Narada walked closer to them. He grew still more surprised to observe, that each one of those beautiful people, had one defect or another in their bodies. If someone had lost a hand, someone else was lame and yet another had lost an eye or an ear.
“Who are you?” asked Narada.
No reply came. They looked at one another, not sure whether to speak or not.
“I beseech you, tell me who you are,” Narada said and he had to repeat his request even once more.
Overcoming reluctance, at last one of them replied, “O Narada, we are the Ragas and the Raginis – the spirits of the various modes of music.”
“I’m delighted to meet you. But how come you are mutilated like this?” Narada asked bluntly.
Again those shy beings looked at one another – indicating their unwillingness to answer him. But, Narada refused to budge unless his curiosity had been satisfied.
“O Narada,” said a senior Gandharva, “it is rather embarrassing to speak about that but, since know you must, we must tell you that we have been reduced to such a deplorable condition by you musicians. You people play your instruments and sing, without much regard for the true spirit of music. Hardly anyone strives for perfection with the right attitude of humility. In your pride you forget all about the source of your inspiration. Your pride and the jarring, vexing notes that are produced by insincere singing and playing come as big blows to us and this is the result. But you are not to blame. No doubt, you are a fine musician, free from such defects.”
Narada stood stunned, his head hung in shame. However, after a pause, he said, “Now, will you please tell me what can be done to restore your lost limbs?”
The supernatural beings told Narada that there was only one way: if they got a chance to listen to the most perfect singer, they would become whole in their forms again.
But who was the most perfect singer? It was Lord Shiva, they informed him, the God who for most part of the time sits in silence.
Narada proceeded to meet Shiva, absolutely silent – devoid of any enthusiasm to sing – on his lonely way!
He reported his finding to the great God who, in his compassion, agreed to sing. But he made a condition. He must have at least one perfect listener in his audience.
Narada was not sure who could be the perfect listener. At his request Shiva disclosed that there were only two such perfect listeners and they were Vishnu and Brahma!
Narada approached the two great Gods. Their joy knew no bounds. It was, no doubt, an extremely rare opportunity to hear Shiva sing.
Vishnu and Brahma, accompanied by Narada, came to Shiva’s abode. So too came the Ragas and the Raginis.
The blissful silence of the high Himalayas grew vibrant as Shiva, the father of music, began to sing. No words can describe the sublime feelings his singing inspired in his listeners.
It did not take long for the Ragas and the Raginis to regain their lost limbs and grow perfect again.
The audience was thrilled, but none more than Vishnu. He reached a stage of unimaginable ecstasy. And something unexpected happened.
Vishnu had become one with Shiva’s song. So complete was the identification that with the flow of the song, his aura around his person began to flow down, melting with emotion.
Brahma noticed it. He did not allow the liquefied layer of Vishnu’s aura to flow away. Hurriedly he collected it in his Kamandalu.
That was the Ganga in her origin. The water of the Ganga is so sacred because it is the Divine body in a liquid form.
For long did the Ganga remain imprisoned in Brahma’s Kamandalu in heaven and was then allowed to flow. A long time was to pass before she was ushered into the earth.
Even if we do not care for the occult meaning of the legend, we must at least see the sense in the ancients presenting such a legend. The Ganga is immensely hallowed; we must treat is as that. As the flow of Grace that resurrected the Sagara princes, the Ganga is the giver of life. Today we are killing this legendary saviour. Till the other day – there are numerous evidences on record to testify to its veracity – the Ganga water never grew stale. Today it only reflects the corruption of our mind.

Manoj Das

(Manoj Das is an internationally known creative writer. He is the recipient of India’s national recognition, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the nation’s most prestigious literary award, the Saraswati Samman. As a social commentator, his columns in India’s national dailies like The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Statesman, revealing the deeper truth and the untraced aspects behind current issues, have been highly appreciated.)