Demo, Women Safety Dominate Conversations at Magh Mela
Few takers for Ram Mandir at this yearly congregation of sadhus and pilgrims
Prayaag: The triveni sangam, where the Ganga meets the Yamuna, 6 km away from Allahabad, one of the holiest pilgrim spots for Hindus found a mention in the UP election narrative recently, when Rahul Gandhi compared the SP-Congress alliance to the confluence point of these rivers.
The Congress vice-president had said, “Ganga-Yamuna ek soch hai, ye jahan milti hain unko pehchana nahi jaata ki ye Ganga hai aur ye Yamuna, aisa alliance hoga (where they meet, you cannot differentiate between Ganga and Yamuna, that’ll be the nature of this alliance).”
Gandhi's comparison finds a critique in the middle of the sangam waters. Deepak Mallah, who has been ferrying a boat on the waters of the sangam for last 20 years said it is very clear where the waters meet. "Rang badalta hai, gahrai badalti hai. Even in the pictures you can see the waters are different. Rahulji's great grandfather was from Allahabad. He should come here often to learn these things," said the 42-year-old, who is a fan of PM Narendra Modi. Deepak, however, admits he has been hit badly by the notebandi that he describes as "system ki galti." "For almost a month, there was little money I made. People who came for pitrudhaan (rites for dead relatives) here had to limit their expenses too. It was a sad sight." Right at the sangam is a plank made for devotees to get off boats and take a dip in the water. On this sits Jayakumar Mishra, a priest, who specialises in telling the pilgrims all about their family trees and rituals they need to do to keep their ancestors happy. When asked about the Ram Mandir, Mishra said, "Ram mandir ki baat toh sabse pehle Kalyan Singh ne ki thi. Wa- hi chale gaye party chodkar. Abhi tak nahi bana.( Kalyan Singh promised the Ram temple first. He left the party and went away. There is still no temple).” The Magh Mela held in Prayaag every year is the largest congregation of Hindu sadhus and pilgrims. The religious ritual of the pilgrimage involves early morning dips, staying quiet till sunset hours on several days and attending various shibirs and listening to kathas. The mela is also where Hindu saints from all akharas congregate every year. Maharaj Narendragiri is one of the Mahatyagis, who are mainly devotees of Lord Ramfrom Varanasi, Ayodhya and Chitrakoot. These sadhus wear white clothes and survive on minimum food and perform Dhuni Pujan (puja with ashes) at the mela. Head of the Bharitya Akhada Samiti Narendragiri said Ram Mandir was an emotive issue that is unnecessarily brought up in every election. “BJP ka toh yeh hai ki mandir wahi banayenge par tareeq nahi batayenge. (BJP keeps promising a Ram temple. Never tells us the date it will be built). This is a jumla the party has been following for years. Public won’t fall for it.” Echoing a similar view is Raghuveshdas Vedanti of the Dharmarth Seva Trust, also part of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement who said, “No party can build the temple now till the Supreme Court gives the go ahead. Anyone saying he can before that is lying.”
People at the mela feel note ban did affect them badly but the situation is much better now
Countering all this is Sudarshan Maharaj, who is the VHP coordinator in Allahabad, who says it will take only 15 days to build the temple once the SC gives the order. “Saara kaam ho gaya hai karsevakpuram mein. Bus ab toh permission ki der hai. (All arrangements have been made to build the temple. We are only awaiting the permission now). "Desh Raam ka hai. Parivesh (environment) Ram ka hai. Computer bhi Ram hi se toh chalta hai,” he said. Without openly asserting he supports the BJP he said, “Is there any other party that Ram would approve of ?”
WHAT DO PILGRIMS SAY?
For Leela devi, from Bijnore one of the kalpwasis – pilgrims who live in makeshift houses or tents at the Sangam, spending the entire month of Magh in prayers – safety is an issue. “There is a problem of safety for women. There are many chain snatching incidents,” she said. Manchali Devi, who arrived at the mela on the day of Makkar Sankranti with her family of 25 members from Kunda said the pressure cookers and Samajwadi pensions that AkhileshYadav offers are an attraction. “Mandir ka kya karna hai, mehangai ka kuch karen to theek hai, (Who wants the temple. They should bring down prices instead,)” she said. People at the mela feel demonetisation did affect them badly but the situation is much better now. "This year, there has at least been a 30% dip in the crowd because of demonetisation. Our bakshish has mainly suffered," said Rajkumar Mallah, who heads the association of boatmen at the sangam. He also makes an appeal to PM Modi to come to Allahabad and gift the community the electric boats that he presented to the boatmen in Varanasi.
Pilgrims and sadhus from across the country at Magh Mela in Allahabad— ET | PTI Photos