Prayag Maha Kumbh – The temporal city of 30 million pilgrims

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Allahabad, the city which hosts the kumbh mela for pilgrims 25 times the size of its own population. 30 million pilgrims (migrants) visited the city on 14th January for the first shahi snan, and witnessing this amazing phenomenon was a mix of surprise, confusion and bliss. This largest religious agglomeration on earth happens once in 12 years, and millions visit it over a period of 55 days, all in the name of taking a bath at Sangam. Well this bath means that the door to heaven is open for you.

It is interesting to visit the Maha Kumbh, firstly because it happens once in 12 years and secondly it brings about an amazing mix of people ranging from tourists to Naga sadhus in a temporary city. The normal city areas suddenly become boring and all the activities concentrate on the labyrinth of the river bed.

Ramcharitmanas

A usual day starts with hundreds of boats hovering over the centre of the river, as this is the place where the mystical river Saraswati meets Ganga and Yamuna. The river banks starts to pack with people as sun goes up. On either side of the river are countless tents accommodating the pilgrims and the major ones on the north bank. All the major akhadas have their camps which would partially make one relate it to the trade fare in Pragati Maidan.

The way temporary service lines and tents are arranged and the area is managed by the authorities is commendable. Walking along the main street one can’t miss the Naga sadhus. I was there a day before the main event, so the Sadhus were less crowded by devotees. With so many Naga sadhus who are naked and smoking marijuana, I decided to click one who was standing in an amazing posture with one leg up. With a meek face I made a hand gesture pointing to my camera to ask if I can click his picture, and to my surprise he smiled and said yes and even posed. I became confident and went close to him to talk. His tent was filled with other sadhus who probably were his disciples, some naked and some half clad, but all of them smeared in ash. Suddenly I felt comfortable and started talking, the posture he was in, is an extreme form of yoga. He has been standing on one leg for past ten years. To my innocent question on how he sleeps, he gave an animated answer that there is no sleep, he just meditates…well… the way he answered made me look dumb enough so couldn’t gather enough courage to ask on how he takes a dump!!! Sadhus in general are friendly when they are not crowded by devotees; only thing that they never talk about is their past life.

The initiation to Naga cult mandates all ties to be broken from this world, and to my surprise one of the semi clad sadhu told me that he was initiated 8 years back and he is still not a complete Naga sadhu…. It takes a long time and ‘kathin tapasya’, well the way many carried themselves clearly showed that they have been practicing yoga. The initiation ceremony is a fairly private affair, but one can always sneak in to see scores of people from all age groups, with shaved head and only one langot and cheerfully shouting ‘Har har Mahadev’. Based on the hierarchy, some sadhus are so important that they get a rath to travel around during the mela.

As the sun sets, the area is like a big mela…. Fancy lights all over the place and decorated gateways with glow lights in front of each akhadas. Every akhada plays something or the other on loud speakers, so the combined sounds of all with so many people around them presents an interesting ambience, the maha kumbh ambience. A typical akhada have a decorated gateway and the main streets lead to a shrine and on either side of the street are sadhus sitting in their respective tents.

It is interesting to see the expression of a believer when they come out of the water after taking a dip. I guess the feeling of liberation is close enough to liberation itself …. men, women, children, really old people…everyone have a smile of content when they emerge from the water…. Hopefully their place is reserved in the heaven …. More so if 30 million people can be at the same space away from their homes and still smile at each other, I guess the liberation is anyway achieved, as compared to the mayhem on Delhi roads which accommodate only a fraction of that population….

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