March 12, 2016

Floating a Flower Boat in Teton

The morning after my book signing at Dark Horse Books, my friends Drs. Dieter and Peggy Knecht took Catherine and me out for a short hike in the Tetons. We walked over a bridge on a fast running stream where just a few weeks before, Dieter told us, the flood waters were on the bridge. We hiked on and came to the stream again – this time the flow was a little more subdued.

“We can launch a flower boat here,” Dieter said.

Astonished I asked, “Did you already read ‘Viku and the Elephant’?”

“He finished the book before going to bed last night,” Peggy answered.

“In that case, certainly we have to float a flower boat,” I chuckled.

“And we’ll also look for an elephant,” Dieter said.

Photo credit: Dieter Knecht

I have introduced the flower boat ceremony in the book because that is the loveliest worship service I have seen. What else could the parents, who live near a jungle, do when their son does not return home at night? The tropical jungle is dangerous with ferocious tigers on land and nasty crocodiles in the river. In my mind, they had no choice but to ask for help from the River Goddess. And the only way they could do that is by sending a flower boat to her. You can read this chapter of my book ‘Viku and the Elephant’ here:

Read a sample chapter

I first saw the flower boat ceremony in Haridwar (Gateway to God) and was immediately impressed. We came there somewhat tired after our hike to the source of the Ganges River, but the ceremony lifted our spirits and gave us the energy to see more of India. Haridwar is just below Rishikesh (about an hour away) where the Ganges River comes down from the Himalayas and meets the plains – a place made famous in the West by the Beetles, but in India it was always known to people and the monks as a serene place for quiet meditation.

Flowers are used in all Hindu ceremonies, but launching a flower boat, especially in the Ganges River, is a very special ceremony. This worship service is not common and is done with devotion particularly in Haridwar and Varanasi (Banaras), the two most holy cities in India. There are many priests who will help you with this worship, but you don’t have to have one. In the old days, people made their own flower boats with leaves and flowers, but now one buys a boat from one of the many vendors. A little earthen lamp or a candle is kept in the middle of the leaf-boat and it is lit before putting the boat in the water. In the evening people gather at the Shiva temple in Haridwar near the clock tower, and as it becomes dark, they start a chorus of Aarti song. The whole area soon reverberates with the song. Sweet sounds of Bells and some drums float on the evening breeze. People put their flower boats in the water and the river becomes crowded with them – each candle-lit boat glowing in the dark. The entire river lights up, creating a beautiful sight and lifting everyone’s heart. A glowing stream of lights moves down the river. The chorus goes on: “Om, Jaya Jagadisha Hare …” Om, glory to the Lord of the universe …

If you are in Haridwar, you must not miss it. In Varanasi you can hire a boat and see the ceremony from the river, but this misses out on the direct experience of the pilgrims. Even though the river banks are crowded with pilgrims, it is nice to be among them. You then become a part of the ceremony and can feel the devotion of all. In the midst of the crowd in Haridwar I felt the spontaneous worship of the people – expressing their own sincere devotion to the Higher Power. When it is all over, silence comes down on the place, stars become visible in the sky, and you hear only the constant flowing sound of the river. You put a little Ganges water on your head and head home; you have done the best worship service you will ever do in your life.

Remembering the experience, I gathered some leaves and stitched them together with little twigs, filled the leaf-boat up with wild flowers and launched it for the Teton River Goddess. The strong current of the stream took the flower boat down immediately, and it overturned, but that didn’t matter. We were all happy that we were able to offer a flower boat to the Teton Creek. Next time we will bring a candle and a match.

From A Writer’s Blog

August 15, 2011

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