12-23-05 Loring Palmer writes from Rishikesh
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Holy City by the Holy Ganga:
Rishikesh is the Indian town in the mountains made famous by the Beatles when they had their fling with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ["The Fool On the Hill," Come Together"]. George described it as heaven on earth. The holy Ganges river is the main event. It's sparkling sapphire presence winds its way from the Himalayas through this little town on its way to the ocean.
Temples and ashrams ["place of religious retreat for Hindus"] line both sides of the river banks. Bell ringing and puja chanting begin before the first light of dawn. A fresh cold breeze can be felt coming down from the mountains with a hint of smoke from cooking fires. No cars are permitted in this area. In the morning as one walks down the narrow street, traffic consists of a few cows [watch where you step], a goat, a group of orange robed sadhus [monks/holy beggars], a couple of western yoga students, some locals off to work, a pair of young girls in their neat school uniforms, a scooter honking its way through the pedestrians, and many Indian pilgrims who are here to spend time in the ashrams and to bathe in the the fridged waters of the holy Ganga. In this area only vegetarian food may be served.
The cow is Lord Shiva's animal and the Golden Arches [McD's] would be an abomination here. [I did find a cafe that serves eggs on the sly.] The river brings a feeling of stillness as it flows past the ashrams. A bit further down it roars as it passes the rocks/rapids near the bend. During the monsoons Mother Ganga doubles in size and becomes a torrent. As the sun sets many of the ashrams illuminate the banks in front with lights and torches. Swamis and sadhus are chanting, bells are ringing, drums are providing a thumping bottom to the celebrations. In an hour it's over. The lights are dimmed, shops are closed, and the area falls into a deep silence with the muted sound of the rushing river in the background. This evening there's a slim crescent moon, one of Shiva's symbols. And this is Shiva's ancient city entering the 21st century. The ancient traditions here are alive and sustaining as India lurches into the spiral of evolution toward the great unknown.
Yoga Capital of the World:
"Yo, have you checked out Maharisi's compound?" My fellow retreatant had begun the spiritual path with Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation years ago. The beginnings of TM had been right here down the river a ways. The old ashram was near my favorite meditation spot on the Ganga where the rapids are. I took a closer look. Up a dry creek bed from the river is a wooded area with tall shade trees where birds are singing and monkeys play.
A high stone wall separates the several acres of real-estate, mostly a hill. The entrance is a domed gatehouse. A path leads up-hill to a series of seven guest houses connected like motel units. Elegant, moorish/rococoesque porches front the dwellings. Constructed of cement [?], they're individualized by colors of green, blue, and gold, now faded. Water streaked and run down, they appear forlorn and gloomy. As I approached, an old caretaker was just entering through the gate. I asked if I could enter. He answered in Hindi, snapping the lock closed on the chained gate. No way. He trudged up the path to the first guest house, took his place on his chair on the porch and watched as I explored from the outside. Further up the hill I could see a dome that must be a shrine. Peering through the trees I saw the house on the top of the hill where Maharishi held forth.
This would offer a spectacular view of the Ganga as it flowed through the wooded valley below.
Nostalgia flowed over me. What a scene it must have been when this was all new, the buildings freshly painted in gold, blue, gold, and salmon-pink, and green...John, Paul, George, and Ringo dressed in white kurtas, the girls dressed in red and gold saris, having tea with Maharishi...salad days.
Famous songs were written here.
Maharishi gave the Fab Four mantras and meditation. They bestowed upon him the status of Superstar. And for the rest of the world it became cool to "be spiritual," practice meditation, and have a guru. Rishikesh became "the Yoga Capital of the World." TM was launched.
Within a few years the honeymoon was over and the relationship went downhill, mainly because the foxy fool-on-the-hill was using the fame, money, and power of the Beatles to fund and promote his worldwide TM project. Although it could be said that this was to benefit all sentient beings, this was too much for the Beatles and they renounced their allegiance to the yogi. The song they wrote titled "Maharishi" was renamed "Sexy Sadie."
Out of Rishikesh flowed a wave of spiritual consciousness that added a vertical dimension to the spiritual revolution. TM continues to thrive.
Maharishi lives elsewhere and is still alive. The Beatles are legend.
Seekers come here from all over to attend yoga workshops, practice with the various swamis, or just hang out. Meditate anywhere, no problem. Pilgrims continue to flock to the ashrams.
"Day after day, alone on the hill, the man with a foolish grin is keeping perfectly still..." Imagine..."One thing I can tell you is you got to be free."
Loring "Lor" Palmer, Dec. '05
Beatles photos, see Paul Salzman's, www.thebeatlesinrishikesh.com
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