It had rained the whole night on Monday last and the morning was still wet as I set out from Curepipe to go to Grand Bassin, now better known as Ganga Talao.
Talao (or talab as it is also written sometimes) means a lake and Ganga relates to the fact that the water of the river Ganga in India was brought and ceremonially poured into the lake here, to symbolically link the two, as Ganga is considered to be a sacred river for the Hindus. And why not, for without water there is no life as we know it, and to consider a river as sacred is to acknowledge water as quasi-literally the giver of life. Not much intellectualization is required to realise the truth of this fact. After all, all civilizations have developed alongside rivers. Had they not been there, there would not have been us.
Symbolism in Hinduism is prolifically rich, and through it we give meaning to ourselves and to our lives as human beings. Without symbolism, everything is just an object which is to be exploited, used and then thrown away. We have taken this objectification to extremes in our disposable society, to the extent that even human beings, and particularly those closer to us – wives, husbands, partners, children, friends too though probably less so (mercifully!) – have become objects of extermination.
When we look at an object, living or inert, in a subjective manner, then we relate to it at a deeper level: as Pujya Swami Chinmayananda says, we look at the ideal in the idol. After all, why do we idolize, for example, a great singer? Aren’t we seeing beyond the person as a physical object and relating to the voice, the singing rather than directly to the person? If the person did not have that talent to admire, would he/she become our idol? Any idol, therefore, is a symbol, of something more profound, and that is the role that symbolism plays when it comes to the idols which convey the ideals of the higher reality that underlies the world.
A poignantly illustrative example of symbolism was narrated by Swami Dayananda when he was explaining the topic in one of his books. He narrated the story of a man whose parents had arranged for his marriage to a girl from another village in the earlier days in India. He had seen the girl but once, and as the day of marriage approached he was becoming all excited and full of passion about the coming event and the anticipated physical union with his prospective bride.
However, a new piece of information surfaced, to the effect that this girl was in fact not the true child of her parents. When she was younger she was found by them, lost at a fair, and being unable to find her parents, they had brought her up as their own. When this story was told to the boy’s parents, it turned out that she was the daughter whom they had lost at the same fair, where they had gone with their son too! All the facts of the story on both sides corroborated.
And when the son was told the truth by his parents, all his passion collapsed in a tearful outburst of sentiment and brotherly love when he was reunited with his sister. From an object she had become a subject, a subject of respect and affection. She was no longer a mere woman: she had become a symbol of a relationship that transcended the mere physical, although it was the physical that was its expression, its manifestation. That is how, too, a complete stranger can become a rakhee-behen, as respected and loved as though she were one’s biological sibling.
To come back to Ganga Talao, it is truly unique, for nowhere else in our island can we find the envelope of mist that covers it and give it that ethereal, diaphanous appearance when the atmospheric conditions have so conjured, so to speak. It had rained there too of course, but the rain had settled to a very fine, soft drizzle. It was completely cloudy, and the atmosphere was fresh and cool. As I walked down the steps to the water edge, I held my breath and looked at the faint outline of the Hanuman hill beyond shrouded in a haze that went all the way to the sky. Or, rather, the sky had sent its messengers, the clouds, down to take the whole of the lake in their embrace. And how warm I felt inside, the glow of Shiva’s light within.
I lit my camphor and stood there pouring the water from my lota, reciting the Mahamrityunjaya. Afterwards I tarried awhile, recalling an occasion many years before when on a Saturday afternoon, with a dear one by my side, we had stood still, transfixed by and in wonder at a similar sight of enveloping, cool, caressing mist. On another occasion, we had reversed and stopped the car at the road’s border near a sugarcane field, to watch the setting sun which had been reflected in the car’s rear mirror. Such magic moments, that cannot be missed, that must be drunk in almost!
From just outside the stall of the Ramayana Centre, I looked towards the road leading to Ganga Talao, and the swelling numbers of yatris who were streaming in, long lines of the fresh as well as the weary, but all walking at a steady pace, unmindful of any discomfort, and carrying their baskets. Everything was going on smoothly, because the infrastructure layout was more than adequate to accommodate all the devotees.
What a change from earlier times! Way back in 1973 or so, we had taken my dada’s sister, whom we called dadi, in my newly-bought Toyota Corolla car. She had expressed a wish to go and do a puja there, and along the unpaved road we had to stop a number of times because she suffered from travel-sickness. And the jolts because of the rough road made things worse, besides lengthening the time of the journey. Obviously there was no proper parking when we reached there. And it was a little adventure to reach the water-edge, especially for an elderly person.
But the cool air, the freshness, and the clear water were all there. A magic felt live. It will ever be, I am sure, the magic of Ganga Talao. Aum Namashivayah.
* Published in print edition on 28 February 2014