‘Kumbhmela’ reminds me of the old movies where one comes across huge crowds and two brothers ‘bichde’ (get lost) giving raise to dramatic storylines. For one, my Kumbhmela experience did not have such an ending. In fact it has sprouted quite a few beginnings in my head and heart, of course touched the soul too!
I had promised my better half, Indira, that we will go to the Kumbhmela (comes every 12 years) this year, about four months ago in January. And here came the last ‘Shahisnan’ of Kumbh on April 14. We jumped on to our ever-friendly carrier – Scorpio – and headed towards the Mahakumbh. The journey from the moment go has been very eventful!
All roads led to Haridwar : An ocean of humanity -15 million – descending for a single day dip in the Ganges on the April 14 (New Year day for many). It is considered to be a journey for redemption in life – the Mahakumbh’ @ Haridwar. I was told during interactions that just like going to Haj (Mecca), most save everything to make this journey of their lives. I noticed people walking hundreds of miles (mostly elderly) for those 10 minutes of dip with the mother – Holy Ganges – and a few minutes of solitude even in the midst of the human ocean. It was a profound revelation for me. I went through my own internal journey. Certainly a journey of life-time!
It amazes me what India is all about, as I keep traveling across India. This trip to Mahakumbh moves to the top of all our travels. Imagine a city of about fifteen lakh population hosting almost six crores of visitors in four months, and that too about 1.5 crores in one single day. I am sure each one of us can imagine what stress this kind of numbers can put on the city and local population. Yet, the whole city is cheerful to host this human ocean.
I came across quite a few teenagers of Haridwar who are surprised and were at their wits-end as they were witnessing first such congregation in life. They must have heard quite a few stories from their parents and grand parents.
I was surprised to see huge number of guest houses, choultreys built by various kingdoms of the nation only to host the travelers from those places when they come visiting. This seems to be a standard way of dealing with huge crowds, as I have stayed in such places in Rishikesh and Gangotri too. At Gangotri, a couple of years ago, a Gujarati Ashram saved our day as we landed in a deserted town with only twelve poeple on December 29 with temperatures hovering in minus!! I happened to see large communities from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bengal staying in such dwellings created by their past kingdoms. Each of these dwellings make travelers resting reasonably comfortable. Jai Ho Rajas – Visionaries of the old age!
Shahisnan is the much awaited event during the kumbhs. There are twenty akharas in Haridwar that participate in the Shahisnan, the holy dip by the SADHUS. To my surprise, I found huge following for many of the gurus of akharas from abroad too. Each of the akhara has over 30+ gurus who head different locations of the Akharas and every akhara has a couple of expat gurus too!! They all rode different caparisoned trucks sitting on their Silver thrones with their Silver/gold maces. Each of these akharas indulge in a long, vibrant march with spiritual dances all the way. The marches are very competitive between the akharas.
Each akhara march is lead by horse riding ash smeared Nagasadhus, followed by its nagasadhu infantry, all nude. Then come saffron wearing sadhus and then trucks of gurus with all chelas. The whole world descends to watch these Akharas heading to have their shahisnan. The crowd falls onto the ground to role and smear the mud on which these SADHUS marched! Before the march reaches the ghats, they are purified with milk to welcome the Sadhus of these Akharas to have their holy bath. It takes the whole day for these twenty Akharas to finish their Shahisnan.
The gentry visiting the holy city for the dip spreads across the banks of The ganges and its canals. You get to see only bathers through out. If you find a water body, you will find people taking a dip!
Coming to the amenities and arrangements, it was grossly inadequate – from sanitation, food, transportation, police support, parking, routing…….every thing went by ‘Bhagwan ke bharose’. It took us almost six hours to come out of a traffic jam of two kilometers… Every one wants to get out first. I donned the role of a traffic cop for all of these six hours to see the traffic inch ahead. Finally a police battalion landed after six hours to regulate the flow!! We exited only to discover that the road to Delhi is completely blocked, as a few lakh people are trying to exit… We headed to Rishikesh for the night, and took a long detour via Dehradun, Pontasaheb, yamunagar and GT road to reach Delhi in 10 hours…
Thanks to patient Indira who kept Mallika busy in the parked scorpio hours on end. Mallika waited in the car the whole day by surviving on a few gulps of drinking water and a couple of biscuits! It was indeed very kind of one of our dear friends, Robinson, an accomplished theologist, to accompany and guide us all the way. All in all it was a wonderful experience worth cherishing for the life time. Don’t miss it next time. Har har Mahadev!
Check the photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/sreenivasan/sets/72157623866821296/
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