2010-09-12

Flow of the Ganges


The Ganges is not only recognized in India but all over the world as being a body of water that signifies evolution, the cleansing of karma, Indian culture and religion, as well as a sacred stream of holiness. Some people consider it unfit and unclean for even their baby toe to enter. Others, however, consider it to be the other way around (re: it is us who is unclean and the water that is clean). Nevertheless, the Ganges is an immeasurable container and like many of the texts arising from Indian culture (e.g., the Vedas, Upanishads and the Great Epics) it cannot be controlled or completely understood.

During one of my first trips to India I visited Varansi, Bernas; the ideal place for a bath. Mark Twain made reference to Varansi by naming it the holiest of the holy. I still have the little brass container that held water from the Ganges. And I still fondly remember the old man who shared with me in great detail his daily ritual at the water to heal his bad foot. With his back to me I took a quick snap-shot of his private ritual. The picture showed his white coloured dhoti just barely touching the water and his grey hair glistening in the morning sun.

Many books, poems, songs and legends speak about the holy Ganges. One interesting book entitled, “The Flow of the Ganges” (Ganga Lahari) is said to have been written by a Sanskrit scholar, Panditaraja Jagannatha. The book was named the 'waves' of the Ganga to signify the ever-moving and present waves of the mind. Pandit wrote the book in order to cleanse his sin of marrying a foreigner.

The background on how the book came to be written begins with a chess game. During the game the Emperor was about to defeat Pandit so he challenged him that if he lost he would grant him anything he wanted. Just at that moment a beautiful Muslim princess entered the room. If he won the game, Pandit requested that he be able to marry her. As luck would have it, Pandit won the game and the Emperor granted him his wish.

But this story does not have a happy ending. After Pandit finished his duties he was deemed an outcast for marrying outside of his religion and forced to leave his home. Tormented by this disgrace, he went to one of the bathing ghats to try to cleanse himself of his actions. But the Ganga also seemed to forsake him and began to recede.

Feeling very distraught by this he began to chant. He wrote the 53 slokas that comprise the “Flow of the Ganges”. It is understood that with each sloka (verse) the water returned until finally the last verse was written. It was then that the Ganga embraced him and cleansed him of his suffering.




I was inspired to take a dip in the sacred waters when a local artist and business man asked me if I had bathed yet. When I told him I had not gone he was very straight in saying, “Just one time, once you should do. In my community it is holy water.”

The next day when I saw him I was happy to report that I had taken a bath. “All day?” he asked as if it might be true. “No” just in the morning I told him and he smiled brightly. I felt happy to have taken a dip in the holy water. It was bright, cold and stimulating. Even the sand as I learned from my artist friend has medicinal purposes, which should be rubbed on the body.

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The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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