Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Kumbh Mela

It all began with Twitter. There were a few on my timeline who were tweeting about the Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 and a thought took root in my mind. Can I make it to the Kumbh Mela this year? After all, it was tempting to be part of the worlds oldest and largest human gathering - and it seemed within reach too. And The Kumbh Mela was not a place that had ever figured in my list of 'things to experience'.

And I must admit that I did not know that the Kumbh is a month long event. A series of events happened in the meantime and I was resigned to going there after 12 years. But then, as it happens, somehow, there is a force in the universe that ensured that I would make it to Kumbh this year. And so I did. But thats for later.

At first, the reactions of the people were somewhat of a revelation. And it continues to be so. For a lot of India, the kind of India in the cities, perhaps, English educated elite like us, the Kumbh Mela seems to be some sort of a place where we dont go to. Perhaps it is conditioning, perhaps it is the fear of crowds, perhaps it is the feeling of infra dig, but whatever, a lot of people I mentioned this to thought it was 'uncool'. To be honest, in the pre-twitter era, I would have thought of it likewise too, but twitter has opened my eyes to our traditions and history among other things.

Some asked me, if everything was ok in my life. There were others who asked me, why am I going? Yet others thought that the Kumbh was a mythical event - as in, not real - only spoken about in movies. Then there were those who thought it was a great idea to be part of such an event. Some thought it was cool. A few encouraged me, called me and even wished me luck. The best one was where someone told me that it was important to 'wander'.

After coming back from the Kumbh, I must admit that the reactions have still been along almost all of these lines. And a feeling of incredulity - as in - you have actually been there - wow! And, you are the only person I know who has ever been there.

It is kind of interesting to note the range of reactions that a momentous event like this evokes in us. It is worth a thought. In general, as Hindus, we have the liberty of ignoring, questioning and even poking fun at our traditions. That is a good thing - life is too short to be taken seriously. But having said that, am not sure if the reactions would have been the same if it was a rock concert or Burning Man or some such thing.That is perhaps the result of our constant looking up to Western traditions as 'cooler'. Perhaps yes, perhaps not.

Perhaps twitter will contribute to the coolness of the Kumbh wiping a bit off our schooling that did not teach us our history and traditions well. From the last couple of times (the smaller kumbhs), there are services that offer luxury tents with some spectacular views of the kumbh at spectacular costs. There are spiritual gurus who offer guided tours. And then those Harvard case studies. And foreigners. And then some.

Whatever, the case, I am thankful that I was able to be part of this historic gathering and soak in the energy of the Sangam. And yes, there were many who longed to be part of this event - so I see the event gaining in strength year on year. More power to the Kumbh Mela and its yatris...

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