Last week I headed to a river candle lighting ritual with my yoga program group. Upon our arrival we removed our shoes and sat amongst the crowd of people on carpeted steps near the edge of the river. Live music and chanting were performed for about an hour. Then a guru came and greeted the crowds. Many bowed to the guru of the ashram and took photos. Behind the guru were some of his students, all were dressed in orange.
After the sun set, inscents and candles were passed around in gold colored metal holders. People spun the candles around in circles towards the river as they chanted to the songs. Many believe the water to have healing properties and power. This candle ritual allows individuals to declare the holiness of the water.
After the candle ritual, the daily ceremony ended. I loved watching the ceremony, clapping along and just observing the people around me. It was like nothing I have ever seen. The people, the context, the ritual. Nothing was like home or was familiar to me. But, I found so much comfort in the serenity and the beauty of the new experience.
I loved watching people, their eyes closed and faces concentrated as they chanted and lifted up their arms and clapped. It reminded me of our common human condition and tendency to reach towards a higher power, to grasp spirituality and to cling to ritualistic practices.
Another aspect of the ceremony that I really appreciated was the removal of our shoes. The removal of our shoes symbolically represents the removal of our social classes, we are all made equal and our barriers are stripped away when we remove our shoes. It makes us like children as we embrace the literal and symbolic freedom of our feet. The removal of shoes also declares the holiness of a region.
God asked Moses to remove his shoes when he was in the presence of the burning bush and on holy ground. When entering a mosque, all people remove their feet to declare the holiness of Allah and as a mode of surrender and in order to leave their lives outside of their places of worship. Out of respect in many Asian countries, including India, individuals remove their shoes when entering shops, restaurants and homes. The removal of shoes is very significant and beautiful. I wish that people removed their shoes upon entrance to churches as a sign of surrender and respect.
All that being said, the when we took off our shoes, all together, and sat by the Ganga as the sun was setting, I was overcome by the simple beauty of the communal situation and the serene setting.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.
Peace and love.