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An Unforeseen Rishikesh Aarti

sarada's passage to navdanya

May 20, 2010 by saradagrace

I wait: Blue lightning arcing over the banks of the Ganges.

There is unexpected magic permeating each of the movements that I make here on the red Indian earth. I have prepared for this trip for months, writing funding grants, learning all that I can about India and the work that I will be doing with Navdanya, a grassroots organization working on preserving cultural and biological diversity across the country.

The work is a final graduation requirement for me in completion of the Masters of Social Work degree that I have been navigating my way through at the University of Calgary. Specializing in International and Community Development, this degree has offered me the chance to link issues in Canada with issues around the world, and to seek insights of change and potential.

I believe in life, in hope, and in the inevitability of a better world. It is this passion that has driven me this far, awakening unexpected turns in my life, allowing all else to temporarily drop away and begin a journey along the dusty roads of India with the horizon directly before me.

Rishikesh and the Sacred Ganges River

Waylaid en route to the community of Dehradun (the closest town to Navdanya) by an unexpected festival–a once every 12 year event that brings together millions of spiritual seekers (Sadhus) from across India–I find myself remaining on the train, drawn by some irresistible urge to pay my respects to my spiritual home.

A bus ride, traffic jam, adventure with a cow and a haphazard trip on the back of a bicycle later, I stand in awe at the banks of the Ganges River, deep in the soul of Rishikesh. There is a heat here like nothing else I have experienced, and the river seems to breathe with it, waving in the heat as though it is alive and the lungs of this place.

By sunset, the heat sends arcs of electricity shooting across the sky, as though the temperature is something physical, alive and powerful. Making my way to the banks of the river for the fire purification ritual of Aarti, the rain begins to fall and each splatter offers a tiny oasis of cool against my parched skin. I let myself become a part of the colorful crowds, swaying this way and that as people remove their shoes and find a corner to sit.

Festival of Color, Dust, and Jasmine

An old woman in a sari the color of sunrise grasps my hand and pulls me down beside her, gesturing for me to share the burlap sack that she is sitting on. Looking out over the river and feeling the push and pull of people arriving for prayer, I wonder what force it is that has brought me here, and how it is that I have come to this place. There is a large statue of Shiva at the banks of the river and water shoots from his head, just as it does (so they say) at the sacred root of the Ganges deep, deep in the cool Himalayas.

A song begins to build and the pulse of it is taken by the crowd. People all around me are sighing, singing in the rain, blue lightning arcing over the banks of the Ganges.

There is a woman dancing on the marble at the foot of Shiva, her eyes closed, face tilted to the rain which has began to pour down in earnest now. I can see the water washing her face, and taking the red stain of earth from her feet. She stands in a pool of red, as though her blood is being washed away, leaving her face intent, bliss filled and heart open. Her sari is plastered to her chest, and she moves to a rhythm that is her own, describing her own secret, sacred dance to the universe.

With a whoosh (and the crack of deafening thunder) the Aarti lamp is lit, and I am pressed back by the crowd which swoons toward the purity. I stand and let my body be carried toward the light, offering my hands toward the heat before turning to wash myself in the sacred Ganges.

Sunset at Shiva's Feet – Rishikesh

It is said in India that when one is cleansed in the Ganges, it is possible to begin life again, to open purity in spirit and body. As I kneel and touch the water I feel like the earth, water, fire and air have opened at once in a marvelous display of magnificence. The sky cracks open and for an instant, all is light, before it is dark again and I am deafened by a roar of thunder that feels like the Gods of the clouds have jumped directly above my head.

I sit on the cold earth, bodies black in the darkness pressing all around me and marvel at this moment. In the midst of the challenge of New Delhi, the intensity of unbelievable poverty, the crush of mind numbing oppression, the complications of global politics and phrases like the “Global North” and the “Global South”, there remains this place and this instant, standing still for thousands of years to greet each sunset with fire by the banks of the Ganges.

I press my hands to my ears, wondering how it is possible that the world can hold so much, and I, such a tiny speck, guided this way and that. I hold the promise of this moment, the gift from the feet of Shiva close to my heart, and wait for mother India to unfold.


Yogini, activist, and humanitarian, Sarada Eastham, is a former YDC graduate and Youth Coordinator at RYYO, living an inspired life as a student of International and Community Development. Her internship with Navdanya; a biodiversity conservation and organic farm in Doon Valley, Uttranchal will unfold before us as she spends the next two months immersed in the richness of this heated political and environmental climate.


  1. hello Sarada!

    came back recently from India, where I was travelling with my adult daughter. Your description of Rishikesh struck a chord of recognition and nostalgia. I had released some of my parent’s ashes into mother Ganga, at the bend of the river in Rishikesh, with a curious eagle hovering a few meters above my head… Thank you for your inspiring article, and Wishing you all the best in your quest!

    Comment by Eva Arros — May 20, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

  2. Sarada- I read this Lightwaves post not realizing, until I got to the bottom, that it was written by you. You paint a powerful picture of faith and devotion. The Light shines through your inspiring reflections. Thank you.

    Comment by carol austin — May 21, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  3. Dear Sarada – Thank you so much for this beautiful description of your early time in India. I look forward
    to more. Faith – Calgary Radha Yoga Centre

    Comment by Faith Stuart — May 23, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  4. Sarada writes so beautifully. Rishikesh and Aarti came alive as I read the article. I look forward to reading all of her articles over the next couple of months. As I read it moved me closer to my own Self, to the magic and meaning of why I am here. Thank you Sarada

    Comment by Pat Lundy — May 29, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  5. Thank you for your support everyone! I feel honored to have the Radha community as a home base. Sharing these learnings with you helps them to become more vivid for me and assists in the discovery of the ‘gems’ of wisdom that are all around. Light!

    Comment by Sarada Eastham — July 27, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

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