Ever since I was a kid, I have always wondered what is so special about the Kumbh Mela that it pulls in people from all over the world. Who are these Naga sadhus and where do they come from? That air of walk like they rule the world, the strut towards the river and ecstasy seen on their face after the bath! It all has amused me big time that I wanted to attend Kumbh Mela and feel the spiritual ecstasy! This year Kumbh is/was happening at Nasik and I was all the more elated to attend at Ram Kund being a Ram bakth. Though the Shahi Snan was one of the reasons, the main attraction for me was the glamour of Kumbh Mela, the feeling of being one, the spiritual enlightenment you get, the weed smoking sadhus; I wanted to see all of that. It was however, only after I reached Nasik that I had lot of realisations. First of all it is Nashik and not Nasik. Nashik has Ramkund (where Ram lived during exile, took bath in this ghat) and Trimbekshwar (one of the Jyotrilingams). The Vaishnavites come down to take bath at Ramkund and Shivaites at the Trimbekshwar.
The first place we drop by is the “Sadhugram” literally translated, the village of sadhus. Only that it is a rich village. There are mahals all over this village. Huge structures erected to host the sadhus and for their followers to seek blessings. I crane my neck to see how high the structures go and my camera cannot even fit them in one shot. Each of them were competing with another in terms of decor. One wanted to give the maximum number of prasad, one had concert going on, one had huge Krishna statue, one had decked up statue like that of Tirupati, one had put up risks of smoking, one was too glittery for me to see anything. Bottom line, it was the hub of sadhus marketing themselves. Behind the line of mahals in the small lanes comes the small thatched tin roofed makeshifts where people from far off stay. People were flocking the streets, some had small photos of God, some just a Tulasi plant, some just the thought of Him in their mind and were dancing to the tunes of bhajans and some were there just for the free food. With the night falling in the festivities grew high. There are processions in the streets, mini stunts put up by kids, dances, orchestra, it is indeed a mela. With no sign of divinity anywhere, we retired for the day. The plan was to be up by 2am and proceed to Ramkund to see the Snan.
The inside of this was not allowed for photography. The extravaganza was just..
Nights get lit up with processions, music and dance
The morning air had no chillness. People were pouring into the city! The makeshift bathrooms were shining through the midnight lights. The guards were up before the people would come and by 2am the city was all barricaded and sealed and you can only walk. The public were asked to move towards the separate ghat made for them to take snan and the sadhus had the privilege to go to the actual Ramkund. We were ordinary people with ordinary cameras, no media pass, no vip pass but just wanted to witness the greatness of the day. The police barricades, their sturdy lathis and their strict faces did not really stop us. We found streets, narrow lanes, the locals were already on top of their building and houses, and we just needed that spot where we can get the best view. We would have walked like at least ten kilometers and were now on the main wide road that lead to the Ramkund. Only the dogs had the right to walk the street, rest of us were pushed to the sides, stuck to a wall.
The ghat section allotted for Public. At 3am.
Now remember this is Ramkund, this is not the place where Naga sadhus come. First in sight were ambulance, police vehicle, fire engine, all the precautionary measures that needed to be in place. What came next was an unbelievable sight! It was the procession of sadhus sitting on top of vehicles. Huge SUVs, tempo travellers, mini vans all decked up and on top of it is the highly decorated chair with the head sadhu sitting and the his fans fanning him. Not one or two vehicle but for a good one hour the vehicles are moving in slow motion. I watch in despair as what have I come to see. Why are so many people mad over Godman? They were all dressed up for the occasion. Some neatly shaved, some neatly pressed clothes, some rightly accessorized, waving at the crowd! One had an orchestra playing Bollywood movie songs. These are the men who get first preference to take the holy dip! How is it any holy with all the money and splurging and attention seeking?! My spiritual enlightenment was getting dimmer and dimmer. We tried sneaking with them to the bath just when the police pushed us harder back to the wall. They were so right in doing so for then came the actual group of sadhus who were high! Shouting Jai Siyaram, dancing to their own tune of chant, throwing flowers at poor souls like us, they strutted as though the path belonged to them, no one can come their way, not even other sadhus for they were scuffling up among themselves! The drums, the chant, the dance, the madness got into my head and we decided to walk with them. The streets opened up to the ghat and that is when the number of people around us sunk in! There were lakhs of people. Lakhs running towards the river, jumping in with no fear! I on the other hand was scared of the crowd and of the water. Few ladies in the water helped me get into it, shouted SiyaRaam and I was done with my snan.
Sadhus walk towards the Ramkund Nashik
Procession of Vehicles with Sadhus on top
Kumbh is incomplete without meeting the Naga sadhus and we now move to Trimbekshwar. The beautiful mountain range, the high green grass, the streaking water fall and the wet roads after the rain were quite a site. Here too the roads were blocked and we walked in search of the Naga sadhus. The moment I saw them, I stopped to take a look at the tents lined up with a flickering bulb or candle light, body clad with ash, a pyre in front of them, some talking to the locals, some performing acts to show their strength, some staring into your soul, got the picture? Now if you walk on a crowded street/exhibition you know how there is a guy on the door of every shop, handing you notice, calling you into their shop and pulling you in? Suddenly these sadhus turn into that man! Calling out to you, smearing ash on your forehead, checking out if you are from media and if not ask for money. Spiritualism by now was crying and probably must have got drowned in the river. The difference between the Naga Sadhu and the normal Sadhus was; the normal ones were like ‘am God worship me’ and the naga sadhus were like ‘am God you need not worship me and I don’t give a damn’. It was getting late in the evening and ladies were not allowed anymore into the akhada.
Most of the Naga sadhus are well accessorized and have mobile, cameras and money
On the contrary you can find Naga sadhus like him too, he has stopped speaking!
Kumbh was not what I expected. Did I have any life changing experience? No. Kumbh had a mix of people; the honest and the deceiver. But it did amuse me in one thing! The belief and faith that common people have. Some people had sold their land and got loan to attend the mela. Some had no place to stay. Some were just following the Ram’s trail from Chitrakoot to Nashik. Whether you are rich or poor, sadhu or fake sadhu, pilgrim or tourist, police guards or the photographers, all had only one goal that day, to attain salvation. There was so much energy all around. I wish, oh I wish that it was channeled into something useful. Even if half the sadhus there decide to preach something good or empower their followers to be better people; we can see a lot of difference in this nation! Instead all they were doing was making people fan for them, serving food to men while women wait for the men folk to finish, making kids do acrobatics for them! Oh dear sadhus, how many more rivers you dip in, you are never going to attain salvation in this way!
Don’t even ask me why kiddo is on the driver seat of this horse cart while sadhu sits. This kind of sight is common!