Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Journey of Enlightenment - My Personal Experience of the Magh Mela

 The main reason for people visiting Allahabad is to take a holy dip at the Triveni Sangam. It is believed that taking a bath here washes away ones sins and grants liberation (Moksha).The Triveni Sangam is the confluence of three of the most revered rivers of IndiaThe Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. We had decided to take a bath here during the Magh Mela which is the annual festival of Allahabad held during the months of Jan-Feb. It is also known as the ‘Mini Kumbh’ as it gets converted to the ‘Maha Kumbh Mela’ every 12 Years. Every day hundreds of people come to take a bath in the purifying waters of the Sangam. But the number increases manifold during this time of the year. This year, though, the Mela held special significance due to the occurrence of Makar Sankranti on the 14th Jan and the coincidence of Mauni Amavasya following the Grahan (Solar eclipse) on the 15th. We were to bathe on these two special days. On both the days my experience was more or less the same except that on the 15th, we had waited for the eclipse to get over to take the bath.

 
[ Starting the walk towards 
the Sangam ] 
    I was a bit apprehensive since I had heard that about 10-20 lakh pilgrims will be taking a bath at the Sangam on the 2 days combined. Finally on the 14th - The Makar Sankrant Day, braving the cold and the chilly conditions (around 5-8 deg. Cel), I prepared myself both mentally as well as physically to proceed for the Snan (holy bath/dip) at 7 a.m. My mother was the most excited of us, leading and guiding us from the front. The boats which are the most popular mode of transport to the Sangam were closed by the government to avoid unwanted local crowd. We, therefore, hired a cycle rick who dropped us some good 2-3 kms away from the Sangam at a place known as the Minto Park, as vehicles beyond this point were not allowed. Rest of the distance everyone had to cover on foot. From that place, till the eyes could see and beyond, the entire stretch of land leading up to the Sangam, resembled an enormous sea of pilgrims and I could sense my apprehensions come true. But my notions were soon dispelled as I covered the course of the 2 km long journey.

 
[ Crowds moving as one ]
 
    Starting the walk, I could see many people carrying sacks containing their belongings, I guess, on their heads walking for miles, having come from all over India. There were people of all ages, genders, babies clinging to their parents, saffron and yellow clad sadhus (sages), and policemen shouting instructions to the devotees. I saw stalls selling everything from tea, fruits, chats, prasads, flowers, diyas even plastic bottles to fill the water of the holiest of the holy. There were puppet shows for the kids, an amusement park, shops selling clothing items like dress materials from Surat, sarees from Banaras, traditional footwear and jewelery from Rajasthan and much much more.

 [ Sea of pilgrims carrying babies, 
belongings on their heads ]

       The ‘Bhule Bhatke Shivir’ (Lost and Found Camp) loudspeakers were continuously blaring out new names of the people who had got separated from their near and dear ones. I saw people holding onto whatever piece of clothing they could get their hands on of their relatives so that they don’t get separated. The famous hindi film cliché ‘Mele mein bichda hua bhai’ dawned on me and I found the grip of my hand on my brothers jacket tighten. Living in a crowded suburb of Mumbai and having experienced the crowds first hand, I have to admit I had never seen anything like what was before me that day. The sheer number of people overwhelmed me. But it was all well managed as there were numerous entry and exit points and people generally stuck to the Keep Left rule.

 [ People holding on to the whatever they 
could get of the near and dear ones]
  
 Nearing the Sangam, I saw many yellow, blue and white colored tents spread across large areas on both sides of the road. It seemed like a whole city full of tents had come up. My mother told me that people who do Kalpvaas stay here. I recollected a conversation my father had with a co-passenger in the train while we were coming here. Aged between 55-60 years, we were amazed to know that he was visiting the place to do Kalpvaas. It changed my perception that only Sadhus and Babas do so. People doing Kalpvaas are known as Kalpvaasis and stay in tents for 1 month. He told us that they are required to take a bath at the holy Sangam before sunrise and again before sunset. They eat only once a day so that rest of the day they can devote to meditations, bhajans and praying to God.

 
[ Kalpvaasis tents and camps ] 

       Besides the Kalpvaasis, many sages, yogis and religious gurus had set up their camps , all adding a different dash of colour and a distinct flavour to this unique festival. Religious talks and devotional songs going on inside could be heard by people like me walking outside from the loudspeakers that had been put up by some of these camps. The famed Pandaas were not to be left behind. There were some entire colonies dedicated to them. They could be identified by distinct symbols drawn on fluttering flags. We tried finding ours but could not locate him and proceeded further. The city of tents had something for everyone from markets to eateries even hospitals, all temporarily put up for the event. I could see devotees camped out with women cooking on wood-fires, kneading dough to make chapattis, buying veggies, chatting excitedly, drying clothes and people keeping warm near fires. I saw T.V. vans of various broadcasters come to cover the Mela. I realized that now we were very close to the Sangam.

[ One of the numerous religious camps ] 

 
[ TV vans waiting for a story ] 


One hour and a tiring but nevertheless stirring walk later, we finally reached the Sangam area. Suddenly, the large mob had dispersed to the various ghats spread out in the vast Sangam area and it seemed to me a lot less crowded now. The Triveni Sangam is a confluence of three rivers: the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati as stated earlier. Of these three, I was informed that the River Saraswati is invisible and is said to be flowing beneath the earth and meets the other two rivers from the base. I could easily make out the muddy water of Ganges which was flowing rapidly merging with greenish still water of the Yamuna. The river Yamuna ends at this point while the Ganga continues till it meets the sea at the Bay of Bengal. There were announcements urging the devotees to vacate the ghats as soon as they finish bathing to make way for the next onslaught of bathers. I could see people meditating, performing various rituals, prayers, reading sacred texts, some getting ready for the bath, some coming out shivering after taking a dip, or simply keeping a watch on ones belongings. The one common thing uniting everybody there was The Thread of Faith. However, the sight of little children crying relentlessly being forced to take a bath in such cold water deeply saddened me.

 [ Devotees near the Sangam ]

 
[ People taking a holy dip ]

       My mother told me that all the Gods are present at the Sangam today and we are blessed to have to have got an opportunity to take a holy dip on the auspicious day which millions other crave for. The meaning of which I realized the moment I arched my back and lowered my head in the spiritually purifying water of the Sangam. I was transcended to a celestial world which crossed all material boundaries. It was an experience which cannot be described in words and can only be felt or understood in person. We all prayed to Maa Ganga and offered holy water to the Sun God to receive His blessings. We then floated a diya and prayed with our eyes closed. Heading back, I saw long bearded turbaned Pandits and poor women along with their children making their way through the crowds asking for donation of clothes, grains and of course money. We too took this opportunity to indulge in some charity. I was told by my mother that any good deed done during this day has a multiplier effect and is ideal for meditation and charity.

 
 [ Flowers & Diyas for offerings ]


  
[ People indulging in some charity ] 

       Each minute I spent in this captivating carnival was a prayer, every moment of it dipped in divinity; it was truly an expedition of spiritual enlightenment. It is impossible for me to give a picture of everything that was happening in and around the Mela, since my every stride bought with itself a whole new experience. There was so much to see, so much to feel, so much to soak into…believe me, one has  to be there , in the midst of it all, to really get a hang of it. Yes, it was crowded and yes it was cold, very cold; but let me assure you of one thing every second of it, is worth a visit.


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16 comments:

  1. really captivating description...felt as if i was by the riverside..
    thanks...

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  2. and yes....the pics tell a story in themselves..great work.. i m waiting for the next posts...keep up the good work

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  3. Arti,
    We have met before, but no where through BPTOW.
    Nice description. You would have had great experience being there. But I am really afraid to go to crowded places

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  4. @Chitra I too was initially apprehehensive of these crowds. But after walking a bit, I started enjoying being a part of this all. In fact, these very crowds played a major role in making this experience a truly unique and memorable one for me!!

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  5. Thanks for sharing this amazing walk! You have some beautiful pictures. I can almost not imagine the sheer number of people.

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  6. I loved hearing your mother's voice through you. She sounds like a very devoted lady. It is such a blessing to get to experience a special activity of ones faith. Thank you for sharing, I appreciate the pictures and descriptions, they to make you feel you are there.

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  7. Thanks to BigB.Bigadda.com. which gave me opportunity to read your yatra diary. I have been to Pushkar, Allahabad, Varanasi, Laxmanjhoola, Ram Jhoola, Parmarthniketan, Rishikesh. Was delighted to read your fluid language with flavour of divinity and spirituality. God Bless You. I liked every bit of it.

    Shall look farward to read more of your yatras.

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  8. Old post , that I stumbled on.. Excellent account of the travel experience..!

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  9. interesting account..even i take special interest in spiritual places and the history associated with them. loved how u narrated the whole scene and pictures were an icing on the cake :)

    sarah

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  10. marvelous entourage well pictorized.

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  11. you never know, but people benefit a lot from posts like these. personal experiences about trips to holy places in India are rarely documented, and you do it in the best way with information in words and pictures.

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  12. the best thing was adding pictures to this post relating it to the content. could feel myself being there and done that

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  13. I saw the date and it was last year's post. But such experiences are perennial and don't have a dateline. What makes such yatras spiritual is not just the places themselves but the faith that brings lakhs of people to them. Faith is one of the most positive things ever and where such positive energy exists, only good can come out of it. Which is why our famous temples have so much spiritual power to provide solace to the pilgrims.

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  14. Wonderful experience. I somehow dislike to go to places where there is lot of crowd. But this seems to be unique.

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  15. really one has to be there to percieve every word you said.superb!

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