By Shivi Verma
A short visit to the Singhast Maha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, filled Shivi Verma with wonder and reverence, bringing her closer to the spiritual heritage of India
Life Positive arranged for a to and fro ticket for me to Ujjain where the month-long Singhast Kumbh was in progress. And while most of the train journey was spent in darkness (it was an overnight travel), my heart leapt with joy as I spotted rows and rows of ochre, maroon and yellow flags fluttering high in the sky and melodious devotional music wafting in the air as the day broke, and the train inched closer to Ujjain station. On the outskirts of the city, along both sides of the Kshipra river, huge camps and tents were erected, with big boards and banners proclaiming the gurus, their akharas and loudspeakers announcing the time of satsang with them. The sight of the Kshipra river was breathtaking from the railway bridge on which the train halted for some time. Flowing steadily and calmly between the two banks that had been concretised with red and yellow coloured tiles, she looked a perfect picture of serenity and beauty.
My colleague and I set off for the main venue of Yog Kumbh organised by Pandit Radheysham Mishra, who was our host. And en route we saw the myriad colours of the Kumbh Mela. The naga sadhus of Dutta akhara, a sadhu who has held up his right hand in the sky for years to please Lord Shiva, a naga plying a swing, and blessing his devotee by touching them by his foot, yagyas and havans being performed in different camps, free stalls of drinking water installed at short distances, the sight of monks in ochre robes, and dreadlocks carrying kamandalus, wearing tilaks, and the resounding chants of alakh niranjan gave the place a distinctly authentic Indian feel.
At the Yoga Kumbh, around 450 yogis and sadhaks had flown in from 25 countries to be part of a five-day international seminar on higher awakening through yoga. The camp was lined with yoga sessions and seminars from yoga masters from all over the world. Yogi Andre Riehl from France, Yogi Amrit Desai from Amrit Yog Institute, Florida, Karsten Armein from Germany, Rajyogi BK Chandrashekhar, Mahatria Ra and many other masters gave their address on the inaugural day. An international spiritual film festival organised by Yoga Kumbh was held for the first time in a Maha Kumbh Mela The selection of the films drew huge applause from the audience. Some of the films screened at the festival were: The Answer, Manjhi–The mountain man, Koi Sunta Hain, The Rebellious Flower, Dasvidaniya, Atheetham, The Hindu Nectar, The Light, The path of Zarasuthra, and many more. The film Divine Lover of Humanity by award winning director Raja Sen was also premiered at the festival. Ms. Sumana Mukherjee, Festival Director, promised to be back with a second edition of the festival next year, with more such beautiful films. Several renowned directors such as Ketan Mehta, Pavan Kaul, Shashant Shah, Raja Sen, Devan Nair, Yasu Tanaka, Krishan Hooda, Aakansha Joshi were also present at the festival.
By night the whole site would be bathed with brilliantly shining lights of all hues, casting their psychedelic reflection on the calm waters of the Kshipra river.
I started my day by taking a dip in the holy river. The ghats were clean, well managed, and had changing room for ladies at short gaps. The police force was deployed at every nook and corner of the mela and most of them were highly cooperative and helpful. After attending a few satsangs inside the yoga camp, I decided to take a tour of the mela and set off on foot. I entered the camp of Hanumatdham, where a spellbinding lecture was in progress by Pundit Vijayshankar Mehta on Shiv Purana. The audience was left mesmerised and wanting more of his scriptural wisdom. Next was the akhara of sant Sri Balak Yogeshwardas who was performing a daily mahayagya in the honour and memory of all the soldiers who were martyred in their line of duty. Further ahead was the camp of Kanchi Shankaracharya who was being given a rousing welcome by his followers. As I walked, a most breathtaking view of the ancient banks of Kshipra river met my eyes. Scores of pink coloured mini temples along the ghats, bells being tolled, thousands of devotees bathing in the river, puja being performed, chants being raised, sadhus begging for dakshina and alms, loudspeakers making important announcements for pilgrims, all portrayed the quintessential Kumbh mela. And what is a mela without a bit of drama? Amidst all this, Trikaal Bhavanta, the chief of Pari akhara, the only all-woman akhara, entered a pit dug in the ground, claiming discrimination against women, and threatened to take samadhi if the administration did not provide better toilets and water supply to their camp. She was pacified after the police intervened and assured her of administrative cooperation. As if in sympathy, Paramhamsa Dati Maharaj, head, Shani Dham, stated in a speech that women had the right to enter a Shani temple and worship the deity. The evenings were enlivened by soulful flute renditions by famous flautist Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasiya, a captivating Bharatnatyam recital by Gita Chandra, and her entourage, and a bhajan recital by Nand Kishore Sharma. I returned to Mumbai wishing to spend more time at the Kumbh to soak in more of the devotional fervour of an event that happens once in 12 years.
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