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A Christian Pilgrim in India

It is early in the morning, late in June, 1973. We find ourselves on the banks of India’s most holy river, Mother Ganga, a short distance from the Sivananda Ashram of Rishikesh. We notice three men in the river. One is evidently an Indian swami; there is a bearded and elderly European, also clothed in the garb of an Indian renunciate; the third man, another European, is very much younger. Having discarded all his clothing the young man is being plunged under the water as the other two recite strange chants. At the end of what is apparently a religious ceremony in which all three are quite rapt, the young man is enveloped in a fire-colored cloth, given a bowl and, it seems, told to depart. Who are these people and what are they doing? The Indian is Swami Chidananda, successor to Swami Sivananda at the nearby ashram which bears his name; the somewhat wild-looking and disheveled older man—who seems to have fallen into an ecstatic state—is Swami Abhishiktananda, a Benedictine monk who had arrived in India nearly a quarter of a century earlier; the young man is a French seminarian, Marc Chaduc. They are conducting a “trans-religious” Hindu/Christian initiation ceremony from which the young man will emerge as a sannyāsī (renunciate) and with the new name of “Swami Ajatananda.”

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