Sumant was studying Indian philosophy in a post graduate college in Rishikesh. This place , also known as yoga centre of the North, is located near Haridwar and is at the foot hills of lower Himalayas. There are a large number of ashrams like Swargashram, Gita Bhawan, Parmarth Niketan etc across the river Ganga where sanyasis congregate and either move on to higher Himalayas for meditation or stay put in and around Rishikesh.

There is a confluence of Bhagirathi, Mandakini and Alaknanda at a place called Dev Prayag which is about 70 km to the north of Rishikesh. The river Bhagirathi assumes the name of Ganga after meeting the other sister rivers at Dev Prayag even though the origin of the river Ganga, after descending from heaven due to austere tapasya undertaken by the mythical king Bhagirath, is said to be Gangotri in the higher reaches of Himalayas. The Lord Shiva had finally relented to allow the Ganga to cascade down to earth through his matted lock of hair.

The Ganga imparts certain sanctity and spirituality to Rishikesh which can be felt by the ardent seeker while walking along its banks or bathing in its water. While the river retains its youthful gaiety and exuberance at Rishikesh after emerging from the hills, it almost calms down on reaching Haridwar. While it retains it vitality in Rishikesh , it appears subdued and passionless in Haridwar. No wonder cremation is considered auspicious in Haridwar as drops of amrit( nectar) are believed to have fallen here in the tussle between devas and asurs( demons) to appropriate the amrit.

Sumant had imbibed the air of Rishikesh. He was curious to know why even some successful people ( like Om Swami ji) give up active and lucrative living and take to sanyas , living the life of a recluse. He wanted to know what their outlook on life is from that lofty perch and what could be their answers to eternal questions like karma, truth, sex, spirituality, fate, God etc. He sauntered up and down the road across the Ganga from Laxman Jhula( now collapsed ) to Parmarth Niketan in the bazaar crowded with monks of all types, all hues, natives and foreign almost every day in search of a sanyasi who could satiate his curiosity.

While walking down the wonted road , he saw a sanyasi sitting alone on a bench facing the river Ganga. He appeared to have a magnetic personality, youthful, poised and dignified. With some trepidation he approached the sanyasi and after folding his hands in respectful obeisance to him, introduced himself and sought to know whether he could raise certain doubts as the answers would help him understand his subject well.

The sanyasi looked at him with a searching eye which almost seemed to pierce him. Sumant was visibly shaken and about to move away fearing that he had almost annoyed the sanyasi by encroaching upon his solitude. He was , however, re-assured later by a beatific smile radiating from the swami, who beckoned him to sit beside him. He realized that behind the austere visage lay a gentle and compassionate person. Sanyasis generally put off frivolous inquisitors and allow only the sincere seekers to approach them.

( The conversation between these two is being recorded here in question and answer form, avoiding the interludes, side observations and gestures. Words in brackets have been recorded by way of explanation to the words spoken by the swami ).

( To be continued …)

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