Badaun, Feb 19 (IANS) They are addressed to ‘Ganga Maiya’, the river goddess. And the letters come in scores every day to a small post office only a few metres away from the banks of the Ganga river in Kachhla town of Uttar Pradesh.
The residents of the town in Badaun district, some 250 km from Lucknow, write to the river – held sacred in India – on auspicious occasions as well as in times of distress in the hope of being blessed by Ganga Maiya.
What’s more, the letters are collected without fail by postmen and ‘handed over’ to the river!
‘It is believed that the tradition of writing letters to Ganga Maiya is over 100 years old,’ Sukhdev Prasad, 65, a retired primary school teacher, told IANS.
No one actually knows how it began. But people say it has something to do with the belief that the water of the river had therapeutic properties.
‘Our forefathers started consuming Gangajal (the river water) to treat chronic diseases. With this perhaps started the tradition of writing letters in which they mentioned the symptoms of a particular disease that afflicted them,’ added Prasad.
According to local people, initially the patients or their family members used to ‘hand over’ the letters to the river by dropping them into the water.
‘With the passage of time, the tradition of writing letters to Ganga Maiya acquired more popularity and not only people from Kachhla but also from adjoining districts started posting letters addressed to the Kachhla post office,’ Mukhram Singh, 58, who runs a small garments shop in the town, told IANS.
Today those dashing off letters don’t just pray for a cure to their ailments; they write on auspicious occasions as well.
Once the letters reach the Kachhla post office, the postmen take them to the river bank and drop them into the water.
‘Be it any festival – Holi, Diwali, or birthdays, marriages, mundan (tonsure ceremonies) or house warming, people seek blessings from Ganga Maiya by writing letters,’ Satya Pal Singh, a sugarcane farmer, told IANS.
‘Residents here believe the letter serves as an invitation to Ganga Maiya, who will then visit their home and bless them, in turn bringing good luck and prosperity,’ he added.
According to officials at the Kachhla post office, on an average they receive nearly 50-60 letters addressed to Ganga Maiya every day.
‘Though we receive 50-60 letters daily, the number goes up to 200-300 during weddings and other festivities,’ Rambhajan Sotia, a postman attached to Kachhla post-office, told IANS.
Sotia himself feels he is ‘lucky’ to get a chance to bow before the holy river almost daily.
‘I am really lucky…I believe it is only by god’s grace that I have got the opportunity to seek blessings of Ganga Maiya even while doing my job,’ added Sotia.
(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
-Indo-Asian News Service