Naga Sadhus at the Mahakumbh
On January 13th, commenced one of the biggest religious congregations in the human history. No, it wasn’t in Vatican, nor was it in Mecca or in Jerusalem.The biggest religious congregation was neither Christian nor of Islamic faith as would be invariably assumed because of the vast number of adherents of both the faiths around several countries in the world. The biggest congregation however was that of adherents of the Hindu faith. Adherents of Hinduism constitute the third largest religious group in the world with 90 percent living in India. It is also the largest congregation of holy men anywhere in the world. This congregation is called the Mahakumbh. Around 11 Million people gathered for the holy bath on the banks of river Ganges, in Allahabad , India on January 14th alone. Over the next 2 months as many as 100 million people are expected to participate in this humongous congregation.Several thousands coming from countries other than India.
The tradition of Mahakumbh is believed to be several thousand years old, which delves in the story of the Devas(noble me or gods) and Asuras(demons) who according to Hindu mythology, are believed to have fought for the pitcher of Amruta(nectar), consuming which would make them immortals. In this battle between good and evil, as expected, the Devas or the noble ones, won. In the course of the fight four drops of nectar fell on four places on earth(apparently all those places were in the Indian subcontinent 🙂 ). The places where the nectar fell is considered holiest of the holy by the Hindus and that is where the holy congregation happens once in every three years to commemorate the victory of good over the evil. The last of the congregation is the fourth Kumbh which is on the twelfth year and is called Mahakumbh( Maha-Mega, Kumbh-Pitcher).
A Sadhu taking bath in Holy Ganges
For the people who know about the Mahakumbh, it is more than just the holy congregation. It is the life time experience of the confluence of the spiritual thoughts that happens at the Kumbh. The real-time experience of Yogic mysticism attracts some people, especially people from western countries eager to learn about eastern religious philosophy. Yet many other curious enthusiasts flock the Kumbh to get glimpse of some of the most unbelievable and some bizarre practices demonstrated by the Sadhus and Yogis (Holy men) like, lifting blocks of bricks with their genitals, pulling carts with genitals, rolling and twisting the genitals with stick much to the awe of the people. A show of yogic energy to control the sexual energy which forms the basis of sexual tantra. Some perform advanced forms of Yoga postures. It is very common to see naked Sadhus (called Naga Sadhus) with dreadlocks, , smeared with holy ash and vermillion all over their faces and bodies, roaming in thousands and demonstrating their martial arts. I had a chance to talk to a person recently who had once visited Kumbh when it last happened. One account of his experience was hard to believe. He mentioned that he saw a Sadhu who sucked a glass of Ghee(clarified butter) with his private part before a group of people. Yes, too bizarre to believe. He said this was a yogic Kriya(process) called Urdhva Rethi, or reversing the order of natural flow of fluids from the body,which is only possible through years of yogic practice and continence.
All the bizarreness and hustle of crowd, the rising decibel that deafen the ears, and all the nakedness apart, the interesting thing however is to know how several thousand-year old tradition still coexists with the modern world (Just some hundreds of miles apart is Delhi , the urban bustling capital of India). And out of nowhere saffron clad holy men congregate at this place in millions in a short period. The fact that such a long tradition still survives and is growing every passing years is a great example of sustainability. The governmental arrangement to support such a huge crowd, with several million tents, makeshift hospitals, cell phone towers, eateries etc is also a demonstration of incredible mass scale planning. A vast vacant land is suddenly converted into a mega city with millions and millions of people. A Mahakumbh ( Mega Pitcher) of diverse and interesting people indeed.