Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Immortal Kumbh Mela # 4 - People at the Kumbh

(This is the fourth part of my travelogue of my series over the Purna Kumbh Mela - 2013, 'The Immortal Kumbh Mela'. This post is in continuation of the third post. The posts in this series will be in a continuous form.

After coming across an interesting traveler in the form of a Swiss Photographer.. My mental will to proceed to the Sangam (by making my way through hundred thousands of people) was rejuvenated. Remember, a stomach bug had dehydrated me the previous day and I was still recovering from it.. In this post, I think I must describe the kind of people, I saw, visiting the Kumbh Mela. 

A sea of people making their way around the Kumbh Mela Grounds

There were millions of people in the Kumbh Mela during the day of the ‘Shahi Snan of Mauni Amavasya’. When I was in the mela grounds I saw that the lanes were crammed and people were moving in all directions. Many with baggage over their heads were making their way towards the tent area, some pilgrims were making their way out of the mela while some were heading towards the Sangam.

 Ascetics seeking alms on one of the paths in the Mela grounds

There was a lot of pushing and pulling happening. The Swiss photographer whom I met said that on his first day at the mela people kept pushing him around.. On the second day he resisted, by asking people not to push him and from the third day he started to push people back in return.

 International Tourists clicking pictures of the crowds around them while sitting on a Rath (Chariot) usually meant for the Sadhus

An overwhelming majority of the pilgrims were from the economical class of the society. That said there were a large number of international tourists in the mela, quite a few of whom were lodged in plush tents close to the river bank. There were foreign exchange students who had come to visit the fair as well. I met some of them while I was heading back to Delhi.

A major observation (and a cause for wonder and awe) of mine was that even though the distance people have to travel to reach the Mela is long.. the amount of miles people have to walk is a lot.. the lack of proper accommodation and the quality of water was alarming(scientists said that the water of the Ganges was not fit for bathing and drinking).. The pilgrims were not deterred at all from visiting the fair. Even the chances of a stampede happening or a companion getting lost (something which is very common) does not deter pilgrims to come to the Kumbh.

The temporary tents set up by the administration was overflowing with people and many were forced to sit on the road itself

Pilgrims sitting besides the road with bag and baggage

 Pilgrims cooking food in open grounds.. People were relieving themselves in open air not far from this spot..

(Poor) Pilgrims or devotees start from their homes with their baggage in tow, jump on a bus or a train (usually without reservation), reach Allahabad, walk a 9km road (the helpful, pun intended, administration had made the movements of vehicles and even cycle rickshaws during the Kumbh Mela unauthorized) and then squat in the Mela grounds. They might or might not have a tent to cover their heads at night.. They cook in the open.. and in how much adequate quantity do they get to eat food is also something I wondered..

 Some pilgrims had settled down outside this tent.. Cooking and freshening up in front of it..

 Another view of the pilgrims who had accommodated themselves in the open grounds

It set me thinking as to what inspires millions of people to undertake such an arduous journey to come to this place just in order to have a bathe ?

One word answered all my questions ‘The Promise of Salvation’. I had heard this quote ‘ Faith can move Mountains’.. and now I had seen with my own eyes how ‘Faith’ can inspire an ocean of people to come from their homes (miles away) to the Sangam and have a bathe in the hope that immersing oneself in the Sangam at the right moment (which is pre-judged as per the movement of the stars) would wash away their sins and the sins of their ancestors and pave their way to heaven..

An elderly pilgrim carrying on his shoulders a replica of the Trishul (Trident) (Weapon used by Lord Shiva). Observe the string of Rudraksh beads (used by Lord Shiva) wrapped on the Trishul.



Lovely captures of the fabulous event!