In search of higher consciousness!
Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) brings about the largest human congregate of collective faith from across India and abroad, to bathe at the sacred confluence of the rivers : the Ganga, the Yamuna and the invisible mystic the Saraswati at Prayagraj(erstwhile Allahabad). The historical, mythical, cultural, spiritual and ritual heritage come together to showcase the ‘holy dip of faith’, in search of inner-self and higher consciousness! Devotees assemble on the banks of river Ganges (the Ganga) near Allahabad, which has it’s source in the Himalayas. From time immemorial civilizations have prospered along the banks of this longest river of India and have been worshipping as Maa Gange (mother), symbolizing growth, prosperity and protection.
This year, it’s known to be Ardh Kumbh Mela(partial Kumbh) and is scheduled from 15th January to 4th March. Though all the days during the Mela are considered auspicious, there are occasions like Makara Sankranti, Paush Poornima, Mauni Amavasya, Basanta Panchami, Maghi Poornima and Maha Shivaratri are considered the most auspicious due to the lunar and planetary positioning and draws huge number of devotees. For once, being a female solo traveler, I was slightly anxious about the well being to visit during one of these days, because of sheer magnitude of the human congregation, vying for the holy dip, which is termed as Shahi Snan or the Royal Bath! But soon my anxieties turned into excitement, as I decided to set out solo for the Kumbh Mela on the occasion of Basant Panchami! Inside, I felt it was the divine ‘call’ and I will be alright. I wanted to explore the ‘spirituality’ behind this ritual!
My flight from Hyderabad to Allahabad via Delhi was pleasant and on time. After coming out of the Airport I looked around for transport to the Mela. After some efforts to figure out a transport, there were not any to be seen, I hopped into an autorickshaw heading towards the Mela. When I thought I was almost near an entry point, one of the policemen stopped us to guide to another entry point. Soon I could see an entry arch where I got dropped. My journey to the mystic, miracles, and the unknown began!
At the Mela
Initially overwhelming, soon the horizon unfolded a riot of sight and sound, vibrant colors in a hue of saffron, scores of pilgrims belonging to different sects, chanting hymns, performing homas(sacred fire),singing bhajans and dancing. Wayside displays of souvenirs, puja items like rudraksh formations, garlands, astadhatu(alloy of 8 metals) and brass items, idols added to the colors. From a distance, the ‘tent city’ providing accommodation to the long stayers looked beautiful, though not enough. I was amazed by the cleanliness around despite of the huge gathering. The deep breath with closed eyes was intermittently interrupted by announcements on loud speakers about the ‘lost and found’ pilgrims, however doing a commendable job.
I started walking towards the ghat(designated riverbank) to board a ferry boat to proceed towards the ‘Sangam’(the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati) to take the holy dip. A boat was in the waiting with many female pilgrims. The 15 minutes ride was full of meaningful conversations, and listening to their local folk songs praising the lord and the river Ganga, while feeding the flock of migratory birds thronging the waters. Munching on some savories that I picked up in little packs of rupees ten by the boat! The water would seem to be standing but wading through it did feel like a ‘current’ flow.
The boat stopped at the Sangam where I could see two different colors of water merging together! We stepped down using wooden steps and holding on to the rope running around. I was literally standing in the middle of the river (on a raised platform made by sandbags). We took the dip … When I was wondering about a ‘change facility’ for ladies, the co-passengers were kind to come to the rescue. They held some ‘sarees’ around to help me change!
Time to head back to the banks and find some food. Nice little stalls selling samosas, puffs and short eats were strewn all around. A little serpentine walk took me to ‘langar’ (food preparation and serving stalls) serving fresh and hot food free with ultimate ‘seva’ motive. These are managed by ‘aakhada(s)’, different houses belonging to groups of hermits. Sitting down to eat with the rich and poor across religions and caste, regions and geographies – I was wondering what a leveler is this – what a humbling experience! Refreshing at a makeshift toilet was surprisingly convenient and I was pleasantly surprised by the sanitation and cleanliness.
I was witnessing the largest gathering of ‘Sadhus’ from across India, led by a common cause of ‘seeking divine’. The most intriguing lot amongst them were the Naga Sadhus. Legend says they are the descendants of the tribe that protected Hindu temples across the Himalayas, practicing celibacy, renouncing the material world lost in immense penance. They supposedly disconnect completely from their families after deep ‘Sadhana’ and perform their own last rites like Pinda Daan/ Shradhha. They don’t wear any clothes and Sadhavis wear a piece of saffron cloth. Majorly conversing in ‘mantras’, they sleep on the bare ground with ash put all over their bodies. They don’t cut their hair as it traps their power post enlightenment. I was advised not to interact with them closely as they are averse to it and in cases may prove dangerous.
Little away I found the temple of the ‘sleeping Hanuman’. Thronging with devotees, I went with the flow to get out at the other side of the temple. A small and timely tip by the policeman worked, as he advised to carry the chappals in the bag, as it’s nearly impossible to come back to the entrance again against the flow of the devotees.
Well, it was time to head back. My return was booked by train from Allahabad to Delhi by train and flying back to Hyderabad from there. With no sight of any transport around, I started walking in the direction of the station with little assistance, making my way through heavy traffic. Little did I know I was on a forced Padyatra(walk) all the way from Kumbh Mela to Allahabad station almost 15 kilometers away! But behold, more you walk, more you explore and you build up some unforgettable memories! You have no idea what you will find next!!! I rue the fact that I missed on the ‘Sandhya Aarati’, but overall it was an experience of a lifetime.