Kedarnath temple, photographed in 1882 by the Geological Survey of India.

Kedarnath temple, photographed in 1882 by the Geological Survey of India.

 
 

In the middle of June of 2013, days of torrential monsoon rain resulted in one of the worst natural disasters in modern India's history, as floods and landslides swept down through the mountains and valleys of Uttarakhand, during the time of year when the entire area is packed with pilgrims visiting the many Himalayan shrines and temples. Entire villages were literally swept away in minutes. Over 6,000 people lost their lives. One of the worst hit areas was the route to the Kedarnath temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple itself, at 12,000 ft., survived, but nearly every other structure nearby and along the Mandakini River and nearby pilgrim footpath was destroyed, and then the mud and water merged with the other swollen tributaries of the Ganga. In the days that followed, over 110,000 people were evacuated by the Indian military, many airlifted.
As news of the devastation reached us here in the U.S., including harrowing, heart-breaking eye-witness accounts, we could only pray and donate to trusted local relief organizations. It was at this time that this poem was written.

Mountain Prayer

(Kedarnath)

I have seen silver turn into gold,
Seen the moon on Your brow
Catch the rising sun,
O, my mighty Father.
Beauty held in heart with
Soft tears, silent delight.

Morning in the cold abode of snows…
Many have climbed,
Many have known.

Fathers of our ancient fathers
Came here
Only to praise You.

And upon this valley
Our mothers’ songs
Settled like the crowning clouds,
O Breath of Time.

And like rivers flowing uphill
To meet their source,
Sons and daughters since
Have reached here,
Climbed so high
To touch Your Feet.

But now, Father, Your army of fiends
Is unleashed, descending;
Your howls unmuffled shatter stone;
Your open eyes gleam, a brightness so bleak,
Sharp points that hold Your trident's force.

To whom do we call out, Father,
When our own demise sparkles in Your eyes?
To whom do we call out, Father,
When Your own hands hold the piercing shaft?

Wise ones claim
Your laws set like gems
In the crown
Reveal Your glory.

And I know, deep within,
My heart pounding
The very rhythm of my confusion
Is but the echo of Your drum.

But my memory, it fails.
I can only catch
In this mourning scene
Shades of stories once told…

For Your children now dance in grief
As our mighty Father did long ago,
Death held in our arms,
Against our heart,
As our love falls in pieces
Down upon Your earth.

-Swami Ambikananda Saraswati
22nd June, 2013