Child of Ganga

Sri Sarveshwari Samooh

Posted in Uncategorized by Nadia Kamil on December 6, 2008


Brushing teeth by the banks of Ganga

Evidently, my resolution to update this journal daily has not been very realistic.

I have been slightly under the weather — indeed, thanks to the weather — the past few days so I stay home the whole of yesterday. In the evening, the ladies prepare an amazing Punjabi dish called Chola Bhatura. It is bhatura (deep-fried bread; soft, fluffy and completely irresistible) served with chick peas gravy and is so delicious I lose count of the number of bhatura I eat. Never have I imagined vegetarian cuisines to be so full of gastronomic delights!

A guy from Lyon joins us for dinner. He has quit his job in Belgium to explore Asia for a year. Dinner conversation is interesting, revolving around travel, culture, alcohol and foie gras. We have Indian sweets for dessert and then I retire for the night.

Today, I go with Nandan to an Aghori ashram called Sri Sarveshwari Samooh, in the outskirts of Benaras. I am very glad to have made the trip there because the people in the ashram are real practising Aghoris, not the sort of quacks that have been generated by the media. The manager of the ashram, upon learning what my project is about, enthuses that Ganga is synonymous with Aghor. I talk to a guy named Ashok Kumar, who works in the Aghor Research Centre & Library of the ashram. He is nothing like Lali Baba. He explains that Aghor is a spiritual state of mind, and not a sect as I have previously assumed. The essence of the Aghor school of thought lies in alleviating human suffering. It is about peace, compassion and mental equilibrium. Contrary to popular belief, they do not condone cannibalism or the consumption of alcohol, and just like all Hindus, they revere the holy Ganga and carry out rituals in her waters and by her banks.

“The mother teaches her son how to walk, move, rise and speak and desires that, by his ideal conduct, the son may earn name, fame and wealth and bring credit to the parents. However, when the son turns unworthy and begins causing anxieties to his loving mother herself, he is reduced to ashes in the fire of her sighs of pain and sorrow. Thus, it is the mother who gives birth to the child and it is she herself who also devours him.”

– Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ram (from a sermon)

Aghoreshwar Bhagwan Ram, who founded the ashram, also set up a service centre for lepers within the compound. This centre is mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for having treated the highest number of lepers. The lepers receive free medication (Ayurvedic treatment), food, clothes and an environment that allows them to be treated with dignity. After having some chai, we drop by the male ward but there are only about 5 of them in there at the moment — the rest are working in the gardens as part of their rehabilitation programme. It is the first time I have ever met leprosy patients. I want to start photographing them but the guy who is showing us around is paranoid that I might be a terrorist (!) and tells Nandan to tell me to stop.

In the auto-rickshaw back to the city, I ask Nandan if the locals of Benaras consider themselves lucky to be living so close to Ganga. Yes, he says, if he goes to other parts of India and tells the people there that he is from Kashi (the most sacred part of Benaras), they clamour to touch his feet. They give him money and tell him to throw it into the river. I have had some idea of how special this place is to every Indian but never have I quite comprehended the magnitude of this sacredness.

Meanwhile, I have passed the halfway mark of my stay here, yet I don’t know if my project is even close to half complete. It seems like the learning could never end. I arrived with the intention of documenting life along the banks of Ganga but every facet of this life is worthy of a whole documentary in itself — the locals who bathe here, the boatmen, the doms, the touts, the dhobies, the aarti ritual performers, the sadhus, the pilgrims, everyone.

So many stories.

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4 Responses

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  1. dana said, on December 8, 2008 at 3:55 am

    hey nadia,,

    you’re truly an inspiration (:

  2. Hee-Haw said, on December 9, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Wah~ Reading ur blog really learn a lot of things! You want to compile all of these stories into a book? Give me one pls~ Hahhaa.. Thanks for your wonderful blog post, I can imagine what is happening there~ Still, be careful~ We miss ya~ :)

  3. md.zakariya said, on August 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    hi i m zakariya from varanasi i have met u in varanasi once.reading ur blog i m surprised because i m living bank of ganga.

  4. Shani said, on April 25, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Hello I am The Member Of Sri Sarveshwari Samooh, if you need more Information then you can contact me


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