I’ve been to Rishikesh before. Few times in this lifetime and there’s a strong aabhaas (impression) that surely in other time frames too. We spent good time in retreat in Hrishikesh (as it is written traditionally) at turn of the year, 2022. The moment one thinks of the place, the divine river Ganga comes to the heart and there is a cool relaxing sensation that takes over. A gentle merging into the heart.
Before writing this blog, I looked up the meaning of the word and to my meaningful delight, it turns out to be “Lord of the senses”. Hrishikesh can be broken down into two words- ‘hrishika’ meaning senses and ‘isha’ meaning lord. In a way, it means ‘one who can control the senses’. Sanskrit is such an incredible language!
We had the good fortune of staying at Parmarth Ashram, right by the banks of the river and being part of their famous Ganga Aarti. Swami Chidanand Saraswati and Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati were guiding a retreat where we’d attend the morning sessions and spend the rest of the day by the Ganga. One special place we spent a day at was the Vashisht Gufa (Cave of Sage Vashisht). A pretty popular place frequent by a lot of people but the 60 feet deep cave has a deep silence. One reason is of course the geology- caves are inherently silent but centuries of meditation within a place makes it extra special.
Sage Vashisht is one of the Saptarishis (Seven Sages) who were all the mind born sons of Lord Bhrama. Also guru of Lord Rama, one of the story goes that the scripture “Yoga Vashishtha” came into being when Sage Vashishta was answering Lord Ram’s questions when he was completely disenchanted with world things.
Coming to more relatable times, Sri Swami Purushottamananda Ji visited the cave sometime around 1930 and ended up staying here for a long period and an ashram developed. Walking down the steps and beyond the cave, one reaches the beautiful serene sands and pristine waters of the Ganga. There is a river rafting take off point not too far but it’s a sight to behold. Surely takes one to the yesteryears when rishis and sages were meditating on the banks of Ganga and in the Himalayas.
It’s romantic to think of this to have existed some time in the past but it is all just a mindframe in some ways. We are the rishis of today. The nature of the mind has always been the same and seekers have always tried to go beyond the grasping and clinging of the mind. One needs to wake up to the fact that this Tapasya is not something of a bygone era. People are engaged in equally staunch practice in the current times as well. There have been saints, there are saints and there always will be saints. As long as creation remains, the quest to go beyond the gripping of the mind and abide in the natural state will remain.
In a way, when the mind drops, whatever is, is. Creation is. There is no individual ‘I’ to comment on creation. ‘I’ is the creation itself. Everything is creation, Brahman (in advaitic language).
Coming back to Hrishikesh; we also visited the Beatles Ashram! More like a museum now, the Beatles Ashram is actually the ashram of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi of TM (Transcendental Meditation) fame. I don’t have any experience with TM but looking at the ruins of the ashram, it must have been quite an experiment. Also, with the fusing of the western creative energy along with eastern spiritual tradition, some sparks are bound to fly!
Whenever (my) mind takes fancy to such explorations, Ramana Maharshi and the inquiry of “Who Am I?” wakes up its hood and points me inwards. Who is this “I” who is fascinated by external objects? The mind always wants something special, extra ordinary and it chases it whereas the awakening is in the mundane, in everyday life. Reality is sparkling through everything- in the most exotic setting to the most elaborate philosophies and techniques to the hustle and bustle of a Delhi or New York! Once the mind subsides in the heart, everything shines forth as consciousness! (Read: Spiritual Travelogue from Tiruvannamalai)
Personally, it’s lovely to know in hindsight the meaning of Hrishikesh because of a certain process that was going on and the experiences I had. The yoga capital of the world, Hriskesh is a spiritual powerhouse and one another place I’d like to specially mention is the lane from Ram Jhula (bridge) to Lakshman Jhula which has small huts of sadhus. Operated by the Swargashram trust, these kutis are the dream for any sadhaka looking to spend time in solitude. Probably beyond the reach of householders, just sitting by the huts and seeing it exist is a miracle in itself. Definitely walk through the lane several times and offer Pranaam to the saints and the goddess flowing through right in front of the houses.
Located at a comfortable 340m (1120 feet), Hrishikesh is also the gateway to Badrinath and Kedarnath which are in the higher reaches at 3300m and 3500m respectively. Coming to some practical details in Rishikesh, there his the Ram Jhula, Lakshman Jhula and newly constructed Janki Setu (three lane bridge). Parmarth Ashram and few others are at the Ram Jhula while most of the guest houses and cafes are near Lakshman Jhula. On the other bank near Ram Jhula is the Sivanand Ashram and there is Tapovan near the Lakshman Jhula where there are more guest houses and people staying for a long term.
Hrishikesh is small and massive at the same time! Lodging and food should not be an issue at all, there are offerings for everyone, just like the world 🙂
Har Har Gange.