How, in the course of discovering the Kumbh, I discovered humanity

The Kumbh Mela made me realise so much about my faith, my self, my fellow travellers in this strange and wondrous journey that we call life.

 |  9-minute read |   05-03-2019
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When you wake up to the voices of millions of people chanting as one. When the first panoramic view you see is the blushing sky blanketing pristine waters with its splendour. When your entire body, mind and soul soak in a celestial experience the moment you take the holy dip.

Then, my dear, you are living in a life nestled in the magnanimity of the Hindu spiritual heritage.

nashik-690_030419034939.jpgThe Kumbh mela has been extraordinary over millenia. This year too, it awed millions. (Source: Reuters)

You are living in the Kumbh.

It is this very site where millions of people gather by faith, fostering their belief in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).

For those who have never visited a Kumbh Mela, it is merely a religious congregation. But for those who have ‘lived’ there, it is a platform that lets you find the goodness in all the lives around you. This piece is about my transition from the former to the latter.

Samudra Manthan led to the spiritual treasure called Kumbh

The biggest peaceful confluence of humanity, the Kumbh Mela, is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith. It is inscribed in the UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and is said to be the ‘largest congregation of religious pilgrims in the world’.

Kumbh is a Sanskrit word that means ‘pitcher’ and Mela means ‘fair’. This centuries-old tradition is highly revered in Hinduism. It is believed that when Devas (demigods) and Asuras (demons) were performing the Samudra Manthan, the nectar of immortality emerged from the churning of the ocean. To keep the nectar away from the demons, the gods fought them in the sky for 12 days and 12 nights — a duration that equalled 12 human years.

During this fight, drops of the nectar fell on the Triveni Sangam (Prayagraj), Ujjain, Nasik, and Haridwar — all these sacred sites are the places where the grand event of the Kumbh Mela is celebrated rotationally, based on the alignment of the planets. While the Kumbh Mela occurs every 12 years, Ardh Kumbh is celebrated after every six years.

kumbh-1_030419035301.jpgThe centuries-old tradition of the Kumbh Mela is highly revered in Hinduism and millions visit the great fair. (Source: Sadhavi Khosla)

It is believed that taking the holy dip in the water of the sacred rivers during this auspicious time can cleanse one of all sins and lead to salvation.

Although I don’t accept or reject this belief, I truly believe that the holy bath in the sacred rivers during the Kumbh helps the soul ascend closer to the divine. It is so powerful that you get to see life from a whole new perspective. You get a deeper meaning of life and understand the infinite cycle of living better.

The larger-than-life event

While it is an exemplary display of the religious faith and sentiments of the Hindus, this gathering is open to all. As per reports, people from 192 countries attended the festival and over 22 crore devotees took a holy bath at the Kumbh Mela this year.

For some, it is their religion that brings them to the Kumbh Mela; for some, it is the spiritual energy of the place that invites them to witness it all. Which is why those who visit the Kumbh do so irrespective of their religions, cultures and ethnicities. They all have just one aim — to experience the stream of spirituality and knowledge that this fair is.

From chiming bells to drum beats. From the holy smoke emanating from the havan kunds to the sweet smell of incense and flowers. From millions taking the holy dip in the waters to chanting Vedic hymns in unison. The Kumbh Mela is all this and much more.

Stealing the spotlight, there are Akharas at the Kumbh that form an integral part of this mega-religious affair. While they were formed in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya, they hold a special place in Hinduism for they aim to protect and strengthen the Hindu religion. In every Kumbh Mela, special focus is on accommodating the members of all the 13 Akharas. This year was no exception. However, the Akhil Bhartiya Akhara Parishad, the apex body that governs the 13 Akharas, brought a welcoming change to Kumbh this year — the transgender community set up a pandal for the first time at this ancient festival.

The Kinnar Akhara was the first transgender group to bathe in the Kumbh Mela.

kinnar-690_030419035823.jpgThe splash of joy: The Kinnar Akhada marked a historic presence at the Kumbh Mela this time. (Source: Reuters)

A sheer delight, thousands of pilgrims sought blessings at the Kinnar Akhara — breaking stereotypes and merging transgenders with mainstream society after years of social exclusion.

So, while this Kumbh festival lasted for 48 days, it has certainly brought a change that will be celebrated for centuries to come.

A place where simply faith remains

Before I experienced the ‘real’ Kumbh, the faint memory that I had of this Mela was that it is a huge fair, huge enough where brothers get separated, for it was one of the most-used clichés in old Bollywood movies.

Little did I know that soon I was going to witness the Kumbh in a way that I could never even imagine.

My journey to the Kumbh Mela was full of curiosity. Direct flights from Delhi to Allahabad were expensive, so I took a flight from Delhi to Lucknow and decided to travel by road from there. On an average, this journey from Lucknow to Prayagraj can be covered in four hours, but as roads were jammed, it took me over eight hours to reach Prayagraj.

On my way to the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati, I found myself getting encircled by a stream of humanity. Filled with devotion and being pulled by a certain unflinching magnetism, there were humans all around me. Some were joining the multitudes in their luxurious vehicles — some were walking with gathris on their heads.

The closer I was getting to the destination, the stronger I felt some divine force was calling me to the confluence of sacred rivers.

The moment I reached there, I was spellbound to witness our rich Indian tradition at such a grand level. Feeling the energy that was flowing in the air, I instantly realised why Kumbh’s legacy is so gripping.

To give credit where credit is due, the Uttar Pradesh administration managed the event well.

sadhvi-1_030419035501.jpgI was spellbound to witness rich Indian tradition at such a grand level. (Source: DailyO)

During my stay in one of the Saraswati tents at the Vedic Tent City, I ran into an NRI staying nearby. While interacting with this 42-year-old guy, originally from Odisha, who had left India 20 years ago, I found that he had come from Singapore for three days — especially to attend the Kumbh.

Being a deeply religious person, I believed that it was religion that had brought him to his homeland. But to my surprise, he told me that he wasn’t religious at all and doesn’t even believe in God. So, when I asked him about his reason to visit the great Kumbh, he said, “To witness this sea of humanity and the spirituality that dwells here.”

This is when I realised that Kumbh fascinates many — regardless of their religious beliefs. Perhaps it’s this intangible cultural heritage of India that this one-of-a-kind congregation attracts people from across regions and race.

Brought together by faith and spirituality, an estimated five crore devotees took their holy dips in the Sangam on the second day of ‘Shahi Snan’ on Mauni Amavasya.

Shahi Snan or the royal bath is the holy bath that saints of different Akharas take in the sacred water. It is only after the Shahi Snan that pilgrims can take a bath in the holy rivers.

Blessed and truly grateful I am, for I got to take the holy dip on this fortunate day.

Although ‘mauni’ means ‘silence’, the ghats were echoing with the chants of ‘Har Har Mahadev’, ‘Har Har Ganga’ and ‘Ganga Maiya ki Jai’ as Naga Sadhus enlivened the ghats.

Now, even though a growing number of youth and professionals are joining the Naga sect, remember that these staunch followers of Lord Shiva renounce the world to follow one of the hardest streams of asceticism. With ash smeared on their naked bodies, these sadhus live an isolated life in the mountains and jungles and perform intense penances to attain spiritual growth.

My experience

The memories of Kumbh have been etched in my heart forever.

I can clearly recall every single moment I spent at the ghat. The ambience was beatific and making it all the more blissful were flowers that were being showered from a helicopter in the sky.

Although it was freezing cold, when the sacred water touched my head, my entire body felt a certain calm. Perhaps it was my faith that resulted in the calmness that I felt. Or perhaps, it was the faith of thousands of others who were taking the holy dip at that very moment.

That moment, there, changed my perception of life forever — it filled me with a gratitude that’s inexplicable.

sadhvi-690_030419035019.jpgWhen the sacred water touched my head, my entire body felt a certain calm. (Source: DailyO)

It dawned on me that no matter what we have achieved in this life or what we are trying to achieve, we are all going to perish. We are all but a small part of this world which encompasses so many souls and bodies — all creations of the almighty.

Soon, another instance boosted these sentiments. After offering obeisance, I wasn’t sure where to change my drenched clothes. So, I decided to do it later upon my return to the tent and took a boat ride instead. A group of women was on that boat. And these women were kind enough to notice that my clothes were soaking wet. They asked the navik and other male passengers to turn their back towards me. Then together, these women covered me with a shawl from all sides, making a sort of curtain to help me change my clothes.

This gesture, the thoughtfulness of these strangers who all wanted to help an unknown being, overwhelmed me.

I felt as if the Kumbh was the only place in the world where all were equal. It was like a melting point that we all entered into, leaving aside our caste and status. We were on a land where there were no differences between people.  

I feel blessed to have experienced the magnificence of the Kumbh this year at Triveni Sangam. The blissful sights of this celestial event, the vibrations of the beings moving towards the sacred confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati can’t really be put into words.

But I have tried.

I tried to pen my experiences for I believe there is a lot more to Kumbh that needs to be known — and there’s a lot more to humanity that needs to be known.

The profundity of the Kumbh Mela could only be experienced in person.

You have to breathe in the air filled with magnetism. You have to merge in the devotion that unites millions. You have to be there to feel the goodness that’s within you and in others.

You have to experience Kumbh at least once in your lifetime.

Also read: Sangam of faith and ideology: Why the Kumbh Mela is so different this time


Sadhavi Khosla Sadhavi Khosla @sadhavi

Entrepreneur, blogger and political analyst based in Gurgaon.

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