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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Maha Kumbh Mela


The train trudged slowly testing our patience
The foggy morning occasionally  allowed glimpses of  yellow fields to peep through
it was slightly cold outside and the train stopped ,this was one of the many stops it had made since morning
 by dawn we should have reached Allahabad ,we were only 50 km away but the train was meandering
After some wait another train thundered past us in the opposite direction this was the fourth one to do so ,the authorities were trying to clear Allahabad before allowing anyone in !
On Feb 10th the day before there had been a stampede in the railway station killing more than 35 pilgrims in a crowded foot over bridge and the authorities were wary of a repeat .
The stampede was a black mark caused by overzealous policemen who used mild force to a  panicky  crowd ,there was also confusion after a sudden announcement of a train arriving in a different platform than what was announced   earlier
This single event darkened this years kumbhmela for otherwise it was peaceful
Foreign universities descend on the Kumbh Mela to study its organization for it was no feat to manage crowds numbering to crores for a period of more than a month in an area equaling 3000 soccer grounds
 To  keep a place frequented by so many clean and tidy and
 to prevent epidemics and stampedes and to provide the infrastructure for a crowd of this magnitude was commendable





Feb 10th was Mauna Amavasi an auspicious bathing day in the Kumbh mela one of the most important of the three auspicious days when more than 3 crore people had their holy dips at the sangham the jucnction where three rivers merges the Ganga Indias holiest  and most revered river the  Yamuna which  descended from the high Himalayan ranges emptying its icy gurgling waters through the lofty heights and verdant plains of India and the mystical Saraswati river fleetingly seen near its origin beyond Badrinath and later said to be underground merging with Ganga and Yamuna at Allahabad
When we went to Badrinath earlier we had seen this
To India rivers have always been sacred
Its culture ,people, religion   , ethos and its soul itself were in these mystical natural bodies .
Hinduism believed in the continuity of souls and in impermanence of the bodies
Life itself begins ends and starts again flowing  unending like a river probably this reminder could be the reason for rivers to be considered as holy





 The Kumbh mela  is a phenomenon unequalled
It is one of the largest gathering in the earth something that could be viewed even from space
India revers its holy men too
there are so many sects of  holy men who are in a spiritual quest in India even to this day .
from the naked Aghoras fierce in their ash clad  long haired and bearded appearance smoking marijuana  eating flesh and drinking wine their nights spent in crematoriums  in the company of the burning dead  to an Aghora  nothing was disgusting neither filth nor slime they never flinched with pain  they gleefuly endured torture to their bodies ,( there was one sadhu who had his hands raised for past 3 years his limb was shriveled into a twig by disuse atrophy )
To them these were but  but paths to attain salvation
Everything is God
Aghoras  follow lord Siva  the supreme yogi .
Initiation into an Aghora is a tedious process one has to get a Guru willing to take him as a disciple ,he has to use a kamandala or vessel fashioned out of a human skull this would be one his rare posessions and his receptacle for food and drink after months of penance in dark crematoriums and forests an aghora gets intitated by his guru whispering the sacred manthra into his ears an emotional moment when he would burst into tears of exhaustion and joy
Aghoras are the fringe elements in the vast repertoire of sanyasins there are naga sadhus who also have tantric rituals in their programmes but unlike the Aghoras are suitable dressed
Saints of differnet denominations and their followers each following their own ideals and rules are spread all over India mostly in the lower reaches of the mighty Himalayas some worldly with  their matireal posessions willingly donated by their rich followers from across the world some indifferent living in solitudes in the icy wastes and glaciers of the high mountains never bothering about the world immersed in their penance and untouched by the vagaries of nature
Once when we went to Badrinath we saw high up in the hills a red roof which was said to house a great saint who lived for years in isolation in the stark cold till the Reliance group honcho had a fibre  glass shelter built over him to his blissful ignorance
The Kumbh mela draws saints like bees to a flower. It is  a virtual spiritual supermarket with more than 5000 akharas or spiritual sects grouped into areas accorded to them on their rankings in popularity and greatness bestowed on them
the parade of sadhus descending to the mighty Ganga for their dip during the mela on auspicpus days was one of the most visual spectacles of the kumbh and many a photographer  has delighted in capturing those lively colourful moments when the naked aghoras dance with their spears guarding their territorial rights followed by serene saints caparisoned in elephants an camels or on modern automobile with their fellow saints
IThe mela is a carnival which could beat its  Brazilian counterpart with ease by its colour clamour confusion and variety
Unfortunately I was unable to witness this spectacle of a saintly march during my short visit to the kumbh
The kumbh itself has many legends behind it the popular one tells about the Devas or gods and the Asuras the demons churning the ocean of life with a mountain and a serpent vasuki used as rope on mount meru to attain the mythical elixir of life called Amrutha when finally amritha is churned out a fierce fight ensuses to take it and in the process some spills to the lowly earth
the four sites of the kumbh mela Allahabad ,Ujjain ,Nasik and Haridwar are the spots where it does so
Mela is held in these places by turn every three years hence falls in one place every twelve years and is called mahakumbhmela the one that falls once in 144 years is called purva mahakumbhmela
With Ganges Yamuna and saraswati in Allahabad Ganges in Haridwar Godavari in nasik and in Ujjain
Historical studies claim that the kumbh itself is not that old though a riverside mela was said to be there for ages
Chinese traveller Haung sen had mentioned of the big festival on the river bank held once in 12 years

Finally we trundled into the Allahabad station at 3pm the station was a mass of humanity but the crowds were much less than what we imagined and we could clamber up the overbridge which showed no evidence of a recent tragedy a typically Indian phenomenon of life carrying on regardless of events
We went out of the station
All roads it looked led to the mela which was more than 10 km away on the river banks there were no cabs and finally after some bargaining we perched on a jumpy autorickshaw and sped our way
Once the mela area was reached we could connect to Pramodh Swamiji of Amritha mission who had invited us here Swamiji asked us to reach a particular bridge at which point he would pick us up in his Alto
The police stopped us long before the said bridge and we walked more than a kilometre before we reached the bridge
On both sides there were tents housing pilgrims huge compounded akharas blared their devotional songs with bhajans discourses and darshans
People walked vendors shouted their wares streetsmall shops sold things and food stalls were in plenty there were occasional food courts too
Finally we saw Swamiji  to welcome  us
we quickly reached Amritha compound and its few tents went into one of the tents and a barricaded toilet to freshen ourselves after some quick food we started off to our holy dip in the river which was more than 15km of mela grounds away
Swamiji and his friend drove us in their alto twisting and turning on metal laid paths full of people on bailey bridges floating on plantoons built by the army
The police and army were in full force preventing any untoward terrorist incidents and helping the pilgrims go their way
We had to leave our car and walk the last two kilometres because vehicles were prohibited
By the time we reached the Ganga it was dusk
It was a sight to behold
The setting sun cast a purple hue to a cast filled with thronging people distant lights blinked to the infinity voices mingled with prayers and an unaffected river flew in quiet grace the air had an ethereal spiritual quality which came out of the millions who had the same thoughts of devotion and happiness in achieving something that  they were destined for .
To a Hindu it a was a moment of joy to be part of this great event
We too rejoiced in our moment
Swamiji went to the boat area and was trying to get  a boat so we could go to the centre of the river to the spot where the three rivers met called the sangham but the police had strictly issued a stop to boat travel after dusk we were told to have our dips on the banks we felt sad that we were late and we resigned to this .

suddenly from a sharp curve came a  a boatman who had talked to us earlier and he called us to quickly come to his boat we did not argue and the three of  us were in it in a jiffy the police strangely never objected and just waved us off .

We never knew why the boat man Gangaram did what he did but with a name like that we felt it was Ganga mata herself who took us in
We were in the flowing sangham which had a convinient sandbank for people to perch and take their ritual baths
The sparkling flowing water was cold but exhilarating and enlivening
Our purpose to come for a holy dip in the maha kumbh mela was fulfilled .

After returning to the banks we went to some akharas and met some holy souls known to swamiji their conversations were deep in philosophy and their glistening faces shone with their inherent knowledge and penance .

We left with great calmness and happiness

Night saw us speeding to lucknow to catch our flight back to our world .


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