Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Day At The Holy Ganges...

What can be a better choice of spending a weekend day if the Ganges flows nearby? I always prioritize upon exploring the surroundings of the place where I live in including its ecological & cultural aspects. Also, I shall suggest you people to do the same rather than visiting far-off places.
          It was 12th August (2012),in a weekend when I visited one of the “anonymous” ghats of the Ganges at my place, Batanagar (about 19 kms from Central Kolkata, West Bengal). The weather was partly cloudy and humid. A brick-made staircase made its way into the holy waters. Presence of less moss indicated that the ghat was regularly utilized by the locals for their daily activities like bathing, washing and other domestic purposes. I noticed three young guys with their fishing lines at the river bank, nearer to the ghat. Out of curiousity, I asked them, “Ki machch paao? (What fish do you get?)” They told that they were mainly interested in hunting for “Chingri machch” (Bengali meaning close to “shell-fish”) or prawns. Fishing has been one of my favorite hobbies and I made up my mind to put my rusted fish-hook to use next week.
A view of Ganges river at Batanagar,Kolkata

A Ganges Ghat


           There was low tide and the muddy stairs which were immersed deep slowly got visible as the water receded. Clusters of Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) were found floating far in the river water. Fresh, “clean” air was all around. The river banks were rich in silt & clay. Different kinds of macrophytes were abundant. The bank close to the ghat was dotted with two distinctly different crab species, namely bigger sesarmid crabs and smaller ghost crabs. Sesarmid crabs occupied the cracks and crevices of an adjacent brick-wall associated with the ghat away from water whereas the ghost crabs wandered merrily on the water-soaked mud-flats. Occupying different niches, they were engaged in their own activities like feeding, territorial & ritual fighting.

A Sesarmid crab
A Ghost crab
A traditional place of worship involving a massive Indian Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis L.) caught my attention. The tree was old and had dropped its huge props wherever possible for support. The base of the tree was covered in concrete without harming it. The locals worshipped the tree & protected it for many years. Few women gathered with their offerings to God. An old woman said, “Let the Goddess know your wishes, she will get your desires fulfilled.” A cemented structure meant for Pujas was shining like silver. I got close and found surprisingly numerous one-rupee coins embedded deep into the cemented surface forming specific designs. A priest said, “Many people come and dedicate these coins to God. The summed money is used in maintenance of the place while the excess of those coins are used in this bedi (the structure on which Puja takes place).”There was an aroma of incense sticks and sweet-scented flowers that added to the holy ambience. By detailed observation, the big stout trunk was a home for thousands of invertebrates including diverse ant species & vertebrates like birds, rodents, bats & reptiles. Figs also formed a major perennial component of diet of many animals & birds. It was really good to see how a keystone plant species with its associated fauna was being conserved by religious sentiments. The cool shade provided by its canopy and the calm atmosphere was soothing enough to make you spent hours at that place.
The traditional place of worship

The Deity

The Props

A woman with her offerings

Sculptured with one-rupee coins

          Altogether, it was a different day for me, rejuvenating my mind, body and soul.

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