FIRST PER­SON Kumbh devo­tees brave the odds, all in good faith

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - Vaishali Bala­ji­wale vaishali. bala­ji­wale@ dnain­dia. net

More than a crore peo­ple in two days in a city like Uj­jain, com­ing from all di­rec­tions, be­long­ing to dif­fer­ent sects, car­ry­ing var­ied ideas of re­li­gion, but with a com­mon be­lief that the mind needs an an­chor in faith — this is the scene that greets a vis­i­tor to the Kumbh Mela.

Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the fourth Kumbh Mela in my jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer so far — three in Nashik and the one at present in Uj­jain — what keeps on ring­ing in my mind again and again is the ques­tion, “What draws so many peo­ple to the Kumbh Mela?”

In to­day’s times, the rea­sons may be var­ied, the roots of which can be found in cul­ture, tra­di­tion, in­quis­i­tive­ness, fear, guilt, busi­ness, work, study or just the sheer de­sire to see the craze for one­self.

As I be­gan my bus jour­ney for the Uj­jain Kumbh Mela from Nashik, I re­alised that I was not the only one to travel to In­dore for Uj­jain — there were many others who wanted to seize the op­por­tu­nity of tak­ing the last shahi snan of this Kumbh Mela.

I had painted a pic­ture in my head of the Kshipra river and the Kumbh Mela set­tle­ment around it. How­ever, the re­al­ity was largely dif­fer­ent from what I had thought. The akhadas and the mela in Uj­jain were spread across 3,061 hectares with an ad­di­tional 352 hectares for the satel­lite town as against 350 hectares of the sad­hugram and ad­di­tional hectares for park­ing and other fa­cil­i­ties in Nashik. How­ever, this big­ger space also meant that in Uj­jain, the akhadas were spread out in their lo­ca­tion. This made nav­i­ga­tion dif­fi­cult for the com­mon com­muter trav­el­ling on foot.

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion and po­lice worked re­lent­lessly to en­sure that the event went off as smoothly as pos­si­ble. The lo­cals, too, played a ma­jor role in host­ing the large num­ber of peo­ple com­ing to the town. Ev­ery home had as many guests, or at times more, it could ac­com­mo­date.

The main ac­tiv­ity was on the Dutta ghat, where the Shaiva akhadas took their holy dip, and on the Ram ghat op­po­site it, where the Vaish­nav akhads did the same.

Then, ex­actly at 3am on Satur­day, as was planned, the naga sad­hus rushed to Dutta ghat, their long pro­ces­sion com­pris­ing ele­phants and char­i­ots.

But even as all the may­hem un­folded around me, I was still try­ing to search for an an­swer to my ques­tion — why are peo­ple at­tracted to this event, de­spite the in­con­ve­nience it en­tails? And in spite of rack­ing my brain for dif­fer­ent an­swers, the one that seemed the sim­plest was ‘ deep faith’. That is the an­chor in their lives which drives them to brave all odds and at­tend the Kumbh Mela each and ev­ery year.

Naga sad­hus take a dip in the Kshipra river dur­ing the last shahi snan of the Kumbh Mela, in Uj­jain on Satur­day — B Shub­ha­laxmi

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