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Incredible event of wellness

March 7, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A last minute decision to jump into the waters of holy Sangam on the royal bathing day of Mouni Amavasya (special new moon day) at Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh India was incredible indeed. It had the positive aura of 50 million people that came to bathe in holy waters on that auspicious day. Guess, our transformation was in the making since three days as we followed the cleanly kept River Ganga after setting foot on Varanasi’s magnificent bathing Ghats (banks).  The river water was very clean, thanks to the determined efforts of the authorities to engage the public in maintaining the holy river’s hygiene and sanctity. We are now aware that Ganga Aarti, the traditional worship offered to the river at sunrise and sunset is not just a spectacle but an ancient science based ritual for cleansing of the environment as well as the human mind.

We had travelled along the river Ganga further north to Varanasi to Kumbh city, the temporary city set-up for the occasion on the riverbanks of Ganga and Yamuna at Prayagraj for witnessing Kumbh Mela. Kumbh means a huge pot and the confluence of three (including the mystical river Sarasawati) holy rivers  is personified to a pot as the water here supposedly turns into Amrit (nectar of eternity) during auspicious positioning of stars in the sky. This has come from the belief that a few drops of nectar had once accidentally spilled from the pitcher held by gods.  A mela or a traditional fair comes-up during the auspicious period that lasts for 40 plus days and attracts Sadhus or ascetics, Nagas, individuals, families, groups, International media, and curious onlookers like us from across the regions.

A pilgrim at Kumbh

On a walk through various sectors of the purpose built temporary city, we had come across Akharas or camps of designated sects where Sadhus dressed in orange coloured robes were engaged in holy recitals. These ascetics, who have forgone worldly pleasures in search of deeper understanding of life and existence, mostly reside in the Himalayas and descend down to the river banks especially for the mela. Early hours of this particular new moon day was auspicious for them as initiation of new sadhus would be complete after the holy dip at this confluence of the three holy rivers of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, all of which have their origins in the Himalayas. Unlike us, they would have followed a stringent austerity before the dip.  Guide Kunal told us that there were mainly 13 Akharas.  Many other camps at the mela that spread on 358 hectares of sand banks belonged to either their followers in different cities or other religious sects from across India who stayed put through the mela. These religious patrons advocated ideas of unity and brotherhood and stayed at the tent dwellings inside the big temporary camps. They carried an aura of spirituality with their Vedic chantings on the march up to the river.

A Naga Baba at Kumbh Mela1

Nagas or naked babas smeared in just ash, during those cold winter days, drew attention from onlookers for their unusual appearance. Their knotted long hair was tied up in buns, some had flowers and decorative beads on their heads and around their necks.   Kunal mentioned that some of these patrons of religion live a normal bachelor life and turn ascetics on occasions like these. They were the accessible lot for common people who bowed at their feet to take blessings and dropped some cash in their bowl in return. They insisted on our group paying them for taking their pictures.

A pilgrim taking a dip at holy Sangam

There is no discrimination of any kind at Kumbh Mela. A set of common people who believe in the sanctity of Kumbh follow austerity just for those 40 days. They stay at the mela, engage in holy recitals, bathe three times a day and feed on vegetarian food just once a day. Those who couldn’t follow any of these, yet believed in the millennia old tradition, visited Kumbh mela just for a day or two to get cleansed through a dip at the holy Sangam.

An eco-friendly camp at Kumbh Mela

Earlier, soon after our arrival into Kumbh city, we had a sigh of relief to visit the eco-friendly camp of Parmarth Ashram. The sight of jute tents adorned with tribal art and fresh marigolds, roses and dahlias in potted plants was very soothing after waiting for two hours in the traffic jam on entering the city of Prayagraj. Shri Chidanand Swami of the Ashram from Rishikesh, who had temporarily camped at the Kumbh Mela, led us to evening Ganga Arti at the nearby river banks. The place that was staging a street play on cleanliness awareness soon transformed into a gathering for sunset prayers. Melodiously chanted prayers followed by reverberating bells and synchronised movements of multiple lamps and the fragrance of flowers and incense heralded our arrival onto a sacred site. We had a sense of belonging with the group as we automatically joined in the chorus.

Ascetics at Kumbh

The mood was further mellowed on hearing the enlightening words of the Swami and his disciple back at the ashram. The Swami has lived in the jungles for 18 years before setting up the ashram to enlighten people on self discipline. His disciple from the United State of America had arrived as a tourist 23 years ago and stayed back in India to be an ascetic. She emphasised that Kumbh was an ideal occasion for transforming the self with simple and clean thoughts and actions that would make the world peaceful sustainable for long. Inner growth, rather than external material obsessions would make way for a healthy and peaceful existence.

Shri Chidanad swami at Ganga Arthi in Kumbh Mela

The spectacle of faith, an intangible heritage having evidence of being followed since thousands of years, has a subtle influence on all. A fort we crossed on a boat ride to Sangam stood as an evidence of the Mughal Rule under King Akbar, who accepted the town as the City of Gods. British monarchy had chosen this holy place to begin its Indian rule. The peace loving, non-interfering religion had survived the very long occupation of invading rulers and continues to subtly influence everyone who comes across.

visitors at Kumbh

We were automatically drawn to the water at holy river confluence on that cold morning of Mouni Amavasya to emerge with a rear happiness of well being. Mesmerizing atmosphere of Kumbh Mela when the Jupiter aligned with Taurus constellation in the presence of Sun and Moon in Capricorn has cast an unforgettable spell on us.

Written by Anand & Madhura Katti

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