Kumbh Mela : Experience of a Yogi
“The tale is great, one may say enormous. Every twelfth year is held to be a year of peculiar grace; a greatly augmented volume of pilgrims results then.
The twelfth year has held this distinction since the remotest of times, it is said.”
The Mahakumbh, which happens once in every twelve years at this holy place is attended by Himalayan saints who come out of the holy mountains to take a bath of immortality and vitality on this pious occasion. Fellow monks and students of spirituality also come along. The Kumbh is considered as the platform for spiritual seekers to meet the saints and find
answers to their questions.
As the clouds cover the sky, darkness envelops the scene in the mid day. It is Maha Kumbh and millions of people have gathered together on the banks of the Holy confluence in Triveni Sangam (Allahabad) to rejoice the victory of the lords whom they worship. The faith in the Hindu mythology regarding Maha Kumbh is so strong that almost tens of millions of Hindu devotees are expected to arrive in every 12 years to participate in the Mela with the hope of getting purified. It indeed is Incredible India. To cap it, the mela is believed to be thousands of years in age and even Hiuen-Tsang, the great Chinese pilgrim from the 7th century AD, has mentioned it in his records. In the present date, the mela draws thousands of people from the far west, with most of them coming here simply to witness this amazing act of faith that makes it the largest spiritual gathering of any kind in the world. From the times of Hiuen-Tsang, who was perhaps the first foreign tourist to visit Kumbh, to the times of today, the Kumbh Mela has undoubtedly grown in popularity on not just a national but a global scale too. So much so, that the government itself takes the responsibility of managing the entire mela considering it as a national pride. Allahabad, the host city, in fact owes its prominence to the Mela to a good extent.
Kumbh Mela has become a brand now, especially after the 2013 Maha kumbh. The entire nation is very proud of this Mela and the people of Allahabad are very sentimental about the sacredness of the mela and its venue — the holy sangam. 2013 was the year of the Maha kumbh which is grander in comparison to the other Kumbh Melas. The mela, sponsored by the government, saw a whopping population of 100 million devotees. 70 million people having gathered in an area of 2.5 sq km on riverside banks to take a dip in the holy water on one particular morning makes not just this mela but India too truly incredible. Perhaps nothing can be more incredible about India than this figure. However, we need to be reminded here that a dip in the holy sangam on this particular day of mauni amavasya promises liberation from sins (mukti) and hence immortality as per the Puranas. One may wonder, do people believe in such things anymore? People may wonder, can a river overflowing with civic and industrial waste indeed purify our souls when it seems to have lost the capacity to even purify our bodies? However, before coming to a conclusion, one needs to take a look at the various aspects of the Kumbh Mela and understand them.
The puranas state that millions of years ago there ensued a battle between the Lords and the demons over the pot of nectar (amrit kumbh) that had been produced as a result of the sagar manthan (puree of the ocean of milk). This puree was the elixir of immortality and hence sought by both the lords and the demons. As for every prized thing there have been battles, there ensued a battle for this puree too. The Lords managed to escape with the pot containing the nectar but on the way to heaven, some nectar spilled out of it and drops of nectar fell down on the four places on earth that are today called Prayag, Nashik, Ujjain and Haridwar. Thus these four places were blessed and whoever takes a dip in the waters of the Ganges flowing in these four places during the Kumbh Mela gets liberated from all sins. This is the belief of the Hindu faith.
Allahabad, formerly known as Prayag, is a busy city with a bustling market and the posh civil lines. It is an Indian city with colonial aesthetics. However, the city gets very different once you approach the place which hasbeengivingshelterto civilizations since the last 9000 years. That place is the much touted Sangam Sthal. "Sangam", a Sanskrit word, refers to the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati. While the Ganga and Yamuna are clearly visible at the Sangam spot, the mystical Saraswati is not. Legends say that the river has dried up and still breathes underbed. The confluence is an amazing natural sight that is surrounded on the banks by ghats, temples, ashrams, a towering Jodha fort and many other historical sites. There are some caves near the banks as well which were earlier used by yogis for meditation. Evidences of civilization existing in the copper age have already been found by the Archaeological Survey of India at this site. And even during the Kumbh when millions of people explode at this site, the confluence is still able to hold your attention and stall your thoughts for some time.
The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen-Tsang of the 7th century has written in great measure about this ancient place.
The Maha Kumbh, which happens once in every twelve years is attended by Himalayan saints who come out of the holy mountains to take a bath of immortality and vitality on this pious occasion. Fellow monks and students of spirituality also come along. The Kumbh is considered as the platform for spiritual seekers to meet the saints and find answers to their questions. The Mahakumbh 2013 was not much different and it witnessed many masters and preachers conduct free discourses for the seekers. At many places, there were also provision of free food and free water.
A Critical perspective
Standing on the banks of the Ganges at Jhunsi, one can see the calm waters of this Himalayan River that is reported to have healing properties so amazing that all sinners can get liberated here from the burden of their sins however heinous they are. After all, it is the legendary "Ganga Maiyaa" (Holy Mother Ganges) along with another Himalayan river "Yamuna" and t h e my st i ca I "Saraswati" (an ancient river with a dried bed) that meet here in the holy city of Prayag (located in modern day Allahabad). There are countless stories in Indian mythology revolving around "Ganga Maiyaa" and its greatness. It is believed that the holy Ganga does not distinguish and accepts all whether it is the prayers of a sinner or the prayers of a pious man.
Various researches have proven that the water of the river in spite of being extremely polluted has a lot of medicinal properties that can fight cholera and e-coli. Ganga water also does not putrefy so considering this river that provides so much water of such quality auspicious may not be an overstatement. But hey, look at what we have done to that river today. Having carried so much of waste, the river is no more the same. The purity of its sacred waters (from a health aspect) has been ravaged by the waste that has being released into it over the years. Whether it is Prayag, Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh or Patna, the scene is disheartening. This river has given so much to these places, has been the focal point of the many civilizations that have prospered over the centuries, and look what these places have given back to the river in return, the river whom we call "The Mother".
The Ganga, Yamuna & Saraswati come down to the plains scurrying from the northern land of snow (the Himalayas) and feed our lands with fresh spring water but we keep filling it with waste. These rivers are revered as sacred ones but many of us worship them only with the motto to benefit our self, to get healed, to cleanse our sins and purify our self. There is greed. The value of seva is somewhere missing. People come, take a dip, perform the rituals, and then vanish satisfied that they have been cleansed and healed. How many of them care for the river? Shastras tell us that the journey of cleansing begins with seva. Seva or Service is considered the greatest religion (dharma). Irrespective of whether the Ganga Maiyaa purifies us or not, we must show our respect by caring for it, by participating in "Save the Ganga"campaigns, by participating in Yajnas that make Prayag the place that it is, and not by merely taking a dip in the river and performing the Anjali Mudra with greed (swarth) in our hearts. A greedy heart is an impure heart and we cannot expect to do anything fruitful leave alone purification from all our sins with an impure heart. The feeling (bhav) must be of love (prem) and service (seva), only then shall we receive.
In the name of faith, footfalls are not just heavy but herculean. When you stand on a rooftop and observe the Mahakumbh, it seems crazy in the first place. The beeline of millions to attend an event which offers bath in the freezing cold waters, shelter in camp tents or shacks, free food being offered at the langars, and religious discourses, all of this amongst the dust, noise and cold really looks crazy. But to understand this better, to find a meaning in all this that appears crazy, one will have to observe it closer. When we saw many kinds of people wake up early morning before sunrise and take a bath in the ice cold waters of the Sangam, there was display of courage. The courage to come out of your shell and do something which you would never dare to do normally. And it was not just the young but the old, the poor, the sick, even the little ones were waiting patiently in the cue to take the dip.
The Mahakumbh brings discipline in a person's life. It makes him or her wake up early, take a bath in the cold waters with positive intentions, pray to the one you worship, meditate, exercise or practice yoga, take a pure and light diet, attend the mass prayers, help people in your camp whom you've never known before, keep smiling, evade foul language or quarrelsome nature, be patient and calm, live in testing conditions, and retire to the bed early. It makes you do all that's in the health book, that's in the wisdom book. It enriches you with learnings from different sources. It makes you healthy, wealthy and wise in the rightful sense. The concept of collective consciousness is actually very much put into practice here. With so many human beings bending backwards to stay positive, it indeed is one of the largest if not the largest event in which collective consciousness and its impact on the self as well as the outer world is on display.