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Sunday, 10 March 2013

My Kumbh Experience


Life is all about faith. And it will be easy to understand what I say if one joins the millions who gather at Kumbh fair. 


This event of about 8 weeks taking place every 12 years at the confluence of 3 holy rivers in Allahabad attracts ascetics and devotees from all classes of society and all over the world. Streams of people from all directions were seen walking towards Triveni Sangam in Allahabad at that late hour, as I entered the city on the very night of Mauni Amavasya, the most auspicious of the days during Kumbh.

We are not new to crowd, be it railway stations or the daily office going crowd in metropolitan cities. But what was happening must surely be a 'one in 12 years' experience for me - as I with my friend began our walk next day morning towards Triveni Sangam, the meeting point of Ganga-Jamuna and the mythical Saraswati. 


Very soon we were inseparable part of the humanity that was moving as a single mass towards one destination. At one point of time on this 4 to 5 Km journey, the speed was such that I even wondered if we could return home by the sunset. But soon the crowd loosened and I dared to take a few clicks off my camera from a spot high enough to get a better feel of the crowd that was  .....






My purpose to be at Kumbh 2013 was just for an experience and be a part of one of the largest congregation on the face of earth but as we reached the waters, the atmosphere was so charged with 'Ganga maiyya ki jai' that it was natural for me to walk into the chilly waters and take that one holy dip the faithfuls believe would take them beyond the eternal life-cycle. 






Once through the holy dip, I began making my plans for the remaining time of the stay. On our return as we were making way through the crowd, my friend, a proud Illahabadi, had a lot  to share and while my ears were trained on him, my hands were busy clicking into the crowd.


It was nothing less than fascinating, the unending human flow, some carrying their baggage on head and  young ones on shoulders, and some even carrying their household effects wanting to set up their temporary homes on the banks of the holy river. It had to be the Faith that brought this huge number to this one place weathering all inconveniences in this chilly North Indian winter.  


All this only for a dip in the Holy river Ganga at the Sangam. Some, I was told, even settle for the whole period of about 8 weeks to take 3 dips every day.





Allahabad is a place of about 15 lacs (1.5 million) but on this auspicious day of Mauni Amavasya, over 30 million is said to have gathered in this one place if the TV reports were to be believed. It was difficult to fathom how could a city accommodates such a population even though for a short duration of a few hours or a day. As one drives around Allahabad the tents all over was a common sight. It was not very uncommon also to see families making any empty space their home for a few days under the open skies.




The arrangements that I saw throughout my 3 days in Allahabad were quite efficient considering the job on hand and the shear thought of controlling a sea of humanity and traffic like this was mind boggling. Bathing in the Ganges and rituals being at the center of this Mega Event, the administration this time had prepared 3 separate locations across the Sangam where the faithfuls were directed for their holy dip. The river was bridged at 22 locations temporarily with help of pontoon bridges, 7 of which are seen here :




When my good friend Ashok Kumar from Allahabad invited me for Kumbh about 4 months ahead of the event, I  did not think twice before saying yes and immediately had made my travel plans and bookings. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to reach and come out of the city so comfortably during this period.

Once I got my geography right about the Kumbh event on the day-one with help of my friend, I set out alone with my camera early next morning. here are some faces of Kumbh .....


























With the main question of lodging solved by my dear friend Ashok Kumar, I was free to roam around in the Kumbh in somewhat carefree mind. And on arrival home after every tiring session, I used to be greeted first with Gajak a local sweet and a cup of hot tea and if the time was right then a meal with a new local delicacy cooked by his wife.  


Some information about Kumbh Mela gathered on Internet should be interesting and useful to the reader : 
It is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh (pitcher) carried by gods after the sea was churned. The festival is billed as the "world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims, with over 30 million people expected to gather just on the one day of Mauni Amavasya, which I had chosen as my day of  arrival in the city.   
In my reading, I had come across certain sects of ascetics named Aghoribabas and Nagababas, both disciples of Shiva, the master of Yogis and symbol of death and destruction. Nagababas were said to walk about naked, symbolizing their renunciation of the world of mortals, rub their body with ashes of the holy fires, symbolic of death and rebirth. Where as Aghoribabas another obscure and small sect try to emulate the most extreme characteristics of Lord Shiva as the Conqueror of Death. They haunt cremation-grounds, bathe in cremation-ashes, wear garland of skulls and bones and Aghoris even said to willingly transgress all ascetic taboos eating meat and drinking alcohol.                                                               
Even more horrid habits attributed to Aghoris is that they eat the putrid flesh of corpses and follow many such 'aghori' practices.  It is questionable whether all this is regularly done, but it seems quite certain that at least occasionally these cannibalistic and other 'inhuman' acts were still taking place. 

I did not have suitable contacts to reach the Aghori camps but was fortunate enough to come across the tents of Nagababas . . .










On one of the evenings, another of my local friend Arun helped me and even joined me on a boat ride through river Yamuna and that was another memorable experience watching the bathers and the gathering from the other side ... 





And later that day Arun even took me around the city and I dedicate following 2 pictures to him ..... one taken of the Kumbh camp at night where the railway bridge across Ganges is seen in he background and the Kumbh settlement in the foreground.
And ... this flock of gulls with the Kumbh lights in the background :

With my Kumbh experience coming to an end, I decided that I would be there at the next Kumbh in Haridwar 3 years from now. For understanding of the Kumbha calendar ... It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: HaridwarAllahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain. Thus the Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every twelfth year. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Kshipra at Ujjain. There is also 'Ardha Kumbh' held every 6 years at Allahabad and Haridwar.

Anyone joining me at the next Kumbh ?

16 comments:

  1. WOW ! Very well narrated and great photos. Remind me to join you for the next Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, though being a part of such huge crowd is not a very comfortable thought.

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    1. Are you retiring to book your guesthouse for the next Kumbh at Haridwar?

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    2. Facinating story.

      Rgs
      Rolf-the Norwegian who seems to think that he's an Indian from a prvious life..

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  2. Nice write up.... These crowds scare me though!

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    1. When 'becoming the part of the crowd' itself is the objective then all scares and hate melts down.

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  3. Very well written, great photos and exciting enough to tempt a visit.
    Sunil Savur

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    1. Hi Sunil, Ashok Kumar and his family made my life so comfortable, I will be again going after 12 years ! And next Kumbh at Haridwar after 3 years, Ajith Kamath has agreed to book his company guesthouse. :)

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  4. So this is India...well covered, good photos & the write up too.. well done Nandan...

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    1. Thanks Dilip. It is impossible to cover Kumbh with all its facets. A must visit.

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  5. Very well written! Reading this made me realise the power of man's faith and belief in the Almighty. This faith cuts across all boundaries created by society and brings us all together. Lovely photos too :)

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    1. Hello Goya, thanks for reading and happy that you liked it.

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  6. despite the contradiction of cat's picture and Birdseyeview for a name, Nandan, the write up is very complete and I get a feel that I was also there.
    Very good and neat. Keep it up

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  7. A beautiful experience all through, as if we were taken through the Kumbh Mela without being there actually. And magnificent photos specially the ones taken at night and the one with the pontoon bridgesand the human multitudes crossing it. Thanks a ton for this, Nandan

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  8. Wonderfully encapsuled in words & picture

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  9. Thank you for the wonderful virtual tour!!

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  10. Beautiful Experience!!! Lovely Narration!!!

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