Dawn is misty on the banks of the Sangam. Enveloped in a gigantic quiet, the water awaits the pilgrim. Sanatan dharma—dizzyingly varied, incorrigibly plural, welcoming of all, celebratory of difference and eccentricity—reveals its ancient provenance in millions of little rituals performed on the ghats. It’s fairly twinkling with life. There is incense, there are lamps, there is cannabis.
The greatest Mughal emperor too succumbed to the addiction of the Sangam. The orthodoxy wanted a face-off with Akbar, but Akbar’s face was turned towards the Sangam. The emperor built his largest fort—the Allahabad fort—on the banks of this quiet confluence and dreamed of Din-e-Ilahi, Sulh-i-kul, respect for all religions.
Sangam is a belief system. Sangam is a way of life. The spirit of the Sangam is infused in the great unifying philosophies of India.
Walk On Female devotees prostrate on the path the Naga sadhus took as they walked in procession to the Sangam, Jan 14
The amrit of the Kumbh is innocence. The innocent belief that a ritual bath can become a bridge to god. The kalpvasi (pilgrim) comes in hope, camping in austerity on the sand, seeking his personal relationship with river and sun.
The formidably long line of akharas, sadhus and Naga babas provide the Kumbh with its spectacle and its magic, provide the made-to-order Oriental freak show for the western media.
Yet the Naga is an important alter ego of our times: he is the mystic dropout, the naked, ash-smeared, opt-out clause from the rat race, the failure at material success who capers by the river bank, smoking ganja and laughing out loud at the absurd pursuit of mere money. Bum bum bhole! The Mahakumbh is a time of remembrance, a time of surrender. The tough existence on the reti (sands), the freezing water, the crowds, the squelching grime underfoot, coexist with a mellow sunlight and a diffused peace. A dusty village fair becomes the site of comradeship between strangers.
Say Peace Foreign sadhus pique the interest of Uttar Pradesh cops guarding the Sangam venue. (Photograph by Getty Images, From Outlook 28 January 2013)
That forgotten relationship with a river, that first touch of morning sun, that child-like pleasure in floating coconuts and rose petals in water, at the Mahakumbh there is a reclaiming of memories. Amidst the massive crowd, the river, sun and pilgrim become their own sangam. The individual sees himself as distinct yet part of a great vastness. From the water, from the sun comes the realisation that the Universe is welcoming, open, that there is nothing to fear, that death is just a small turn down another road.
There is no single presiding deity at the Kumbh. No single priestly order dominates its proceedings. Every pilgrim or tourist is free to worship his or her own god; each is free to perform individual rituals. All castes, from all regions, all classes, become one water. The Sangam takes away all social difference and hierarchy; Brahmin and Dalit bathe in the same water.
Twice blessed A Naga sadhu poses with a temple priest performing evening prayers during the arti ceremony, Jan 15
The Kumbh is quintessentially egalitarian, forcing bankers and lawyers within towelling distance of farmers and wage labourers. At the Mahakumbh, the river asserts its presence. This is Ganga’s kingdom where the royal edict seems to be: let all my people be equal, let them respect each other, let them learn to bear hardship and loss, and let them open their eyes to beauty amidst ordinariness.
A panoply of paradoxes: the spectacle of the Shahi snans, the ordinariness of small family rituals on the riverbanks, the grand processions of sadhus, the humble pilgrim on the sand, the thousands of seekers of truth from western countries, the monks who sold their Ferraris walking along with rural communities from across India.
Above the perfectly organised chaos sits an undeniable spiritual power. It’s a power that comes from the total freedom—almost anarchism—of belief and prayer. And it comes from an all-encompassing quietude that seems to say: I am Brahma, and I exist in every single Atma in the world irrespective of creed, recognise that to recognise Me.
(Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. Her novel, Blind Faith, is based on the Kumbh Mela.)
Apropos Bridge to the Gods (Jan 28), I lived in Haridwar for 20 years. The Naga babas have been there even before that. Most of these ‘sadhus’ were street tramps hired on a daily wage, smeared with ash and made to walk naked.
V.G. Paranjpe, Pune
Why does every Kumbh mela coverage have to have images of naked Naga sadhus?
Rajneesh Batra, New Delhi
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
"""" No seriously, if IQ were dynamite, you wouldn't have enough to blow your nose!!
This is so funny. Hey listen you palak lover go drool all you wish...
Kumbh and its discovery by 'upper classes' is refreshing.
And why the regards? Doesnt match the tone elsewhere!
Sagarika writes well. She has the flair to convey the liberating spirit of the Mahakumbh.
"aha ...... Akbar "the great".
I have never understood how Akbar was great. He was a good politician and had the brains to hide is religion when the need arose. He knew when to bend and when to fight. But there have been so many others like that. I have never understood the particular fascination with Akbar.
The greatest Indian king, I think is Rajendra Cholan. The sheer width and depth of his conquest is simply astounding.
aha ...... Akbar "the great".
"O king, o Sultan, o Akbar-the great; this place is most sacred one. The center of whole dharmic knowledge from time immemorial. Brahma himself came down to earth here and spoke Vedas. Great epics has been written on the banks here. Greatest of great, kings of king come here to wash away any sin they might have committed. They bow down to this Sangam of holiest of holi rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, for this is a place of sacrifice, this is place of offering.
Thus, oh mighty king, we call it Prayag, the place where one offers all, offering the self, offering the ego.
We, o king of Indraprasth, welcome you to the Kumbh, this carnival of devotion. This vast gathering, where king is not a king and peasant is not a peasant."
"Beautiful, o priest, it is such a wonderful experience. What did you say the name of this place"
"Prayag, o king"
"F* you, o priest. Allah must triumph, thus from now on this place will be called 'Allah-Aabaad' (Allah flourish). Well, if you wish, you can shorten it to Allahabad."
I imagine this because there is no dispute that name of this place was changed by Akbar from "Prayag" to Allahabad".
One wonders, why change the name in the first place?
Even if one wants to change the name, why a bring 'Allah' in most sacred place for Hindus? It is like renaming Mecca or Vatican to say, Ram-nagar or Shiv-puri.
Am I communal if I ask these questions?
If you think yes, then whatever happen to academic freedom or freedom of speech; but F* you very much, I don't care. These question must be understood and answered.
//Most commentators above seem to hate everything about themselves and all others.
Castist, racist and above all kill joyists...if Sagarika is excited by the grandeur, the scale why should you daft men gag?
Go bury your heads in the sands of
Allahbad and think...stinks of misogyny or some retatrded variation.//
Judging you on the coherence you show in this post, I shall not ask you to explain what you are calling castist(where's the 'e'), racist and 'kill joyists'.
If it takes a couple of comments to kill your joy perhaps you should get a mental conditioning routine.
Sagarika's excitement doesn't interest me in the least. I am excited by Palak Paneer. If I wrote for Outlook I would give my opinion and deodorise it with some relevant factually correct information. I wouldn't exotify my own people. She, seems incapable of this. Sexism, would involve prejudice. There is no pre-judgment here. I and the other chaps on the thread are judging her on this piece, which is horrid and stinks of exotification of India by an upper class bimbo(gender ambiguously used before you call me sexist). We would do the same to each other or to a shemale or even mayawati, whatever hybrid gender she represents.
Everyone that disagrees with you or points out your intellectual inadequacy is not a misogynist. You trivialise the real suffering of millions of women who have to face misogyny regularly by calling the posts on this thread misogyny.
No seriously, if IQ were dynamite, you wouldn't have enough to blow your nose!!
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