Sitting on the steps on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh  some summers ago gave me a feeling of peace and unity with the universe, more than I ever experienced in a church, temple, gurdwara or other places of worship that I have visited. I felt such calm that I found myself closing my eyes as joy seemed to be seeping into my being.

Nothing else seemed to matter. The crowds of devotees converging for the evening Ganga Aarti; the rustling of their clothes as they descended down the steps; their calling out to each other as they scrambled for places on the steps of the bank; the soft murmur of the water as they soaked their feet in the holy waters of the Ganga ─ none of this spoilt my tranquillity. I opened my eyes for a while as I heard a scraping sound of a person, sitting next to me. Since I was looking downwards, I saw a pair of beautiful, pedicured feet. After a split second of distraction, I closed my eyes again and felt the calmness return.

When the Vedic chanting began to usher in the Ganga Aarti, I was aroused from my reverie for a while. But soon the chanting seemed to recede into the background, for Ganga Maa  had taken over my mind, body and spirit. I felt like a baby nestling in his mother’s bosom. I could have been there for an eternity.

Then the spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Swami Chidanand Saraswati’s dulcet voice singing praises to the Divine wafted across the Ganga. Swamiji’s singing was soothing but it didn’t distract me. It was like icing on the cake. As Swamiji delivered his homily for the evening, which was on the need to protect the environment, to me he seemed to be speaking in the distance.

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As the Ganga Aarti ended, scores of devotees ascended the steps to return to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram. The Ganga Aarti has the power to uplift the spirits of the most downtrodden soul. So the collective murmurs of satisfaction following the Ganga Aarti by the surging crowds, sounded like a gigantic celebration.

Now as I opened my eyes and joined the milling crowds, I kept turning back to have just another glimpse of Ganga Maa. The urge to return to the banks and sit there for some more time seemed so compelling, but that seemed physically impossible then as the surging crowds were all pushing upwards, carrying me with them like a big wave in the sea of humanity.

But even in the melee, I could still feel the tranquillity that had overpowered my otherwise, always restless spirit. Ganga Maa seemed to have blessed me with a Diksha and I was hoping that this mantra would help me to stay calm and peaceful even in times of sadness and adversity.

The next morning when I visited Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati in her office at the Parmath Ashram, and recounted my experience, she said, “Peace comes from within and no external forces or distractions can disturb it.”

“Many Americans and Europeans come to the Ganga in Rishikesh to find peace and go back disappointed, complaining that it is not possible to find peace, amidst the noise of the crowds,” Sadhviji, who is also President of Divine Shakti Foundation, said.

Her riposte to them is: “If you can’t find peace in the quiet, beautiful woods and hills of your own country, how can you expect to find it on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh, where devotees believe in expressing their love for Mother openly and not silently.”

As I get busy with the daily business of living, Ganga Maa seems so far away. Yet, when I close my eyes and imagine myself at the banks again, a fraction of the peace that I experienced at Rishikesh returns.

Ganga Maa seems to keep calling me, from time to time, to visit Her and be at Her feet and get engulfed in Her bosom.

My Christian upbringing makes me believe that, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’

But visiting Ganga Maa, the Mother of all Mothers, has given me such a sense of belonging, oneness, peace and unity that I am now inclined to believe that ‘from the bosom of Ganga I came and to Ganga I shall return.’