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On amrit and mrityu, and the river in between..

This year, Hardwar and the Ganga have come to attention because of the Kumbh mela and its aftermath. I am not going to talk about the pandemic tragedy that is unfolding. Around that time, a beautiful word came to be mentioned a lot: अविरल (aviral).

I recoiled at the petty purpose for which this word was being used, but it set off this train of thought, starting with another beautiful word:

शिपिविष्टः (Shipivishtah)

Sanskrit work well in such times. It takes one far away from the immediacy of the situation, and offers cryptic messages in which one may find some meaning. So, this word is derived thus:

शि: water, that is cool and rest-giving.

शिपि: the rays of the sun, that drink this water.

शिपिविष्टः The one who has entered these rays of the sun.


This leads to a verse in the Gita, which can be read like this:

I am the one who as the rays of the Sun, scorches the water. I am the one who holds back the waters, and again pours them as rain.’

The Sun drinks the waters of the ocean, and clouds sweep across the land, holding, carrying, pouring rain. They meet the mountains, and are cast down as snow and ice. The glaciers melt, and uncounted streams form and become rivers. These waters flow – continuous, uninterrupted - aviral, and pure – nirmal. With these qualities, they sustain life within themselves and in the teeming lands they flow through. They reach the ocean, and complete this cycle. I am in awe of those who sensed, so long ago, the connectedness and interdependence of everything, living and non-living, in Nature.


The verse continues: ‘I am amrit, the immortality of the gods. I am mrityu, the death of the mortals.’

Every twelve years, we congregate in Hardwar, chasing after the mythical amrit of a mythical kumbha. But it is we who have reduced these truly wondrous waters, this real amrit, to stagnant pools and drains of sewage. Our rivers are poison, our oceans are garbage. Our thoughts are mean, our understanding is limited. Is this what we now mean by aviral and nirmal?

We chase amrit, but by our actions, we have chosen mrityu.

The verse concludes: ‘O Arjuna, I am being, as well as nonbeing.’

Its all the same to Him. The rest is up to us.

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