The Kumbha Mela
Fifteen and a half million people, mostly Hindu pilgrims, collected on the banks of the Ganges River at Ahallabad. The year was 1977, and it was the Maha Kumbh Mela, a festival that happens only every twelve years.
Once I made my way to the plateau overlooking the mela grounds, I could hardly believe my eyes. Eventually, I walked down and into the crowds, walked for miles taking it all in. The Naga Babas, naked with matted hair, crouched beside the holy river to make sure they’d be the first to take the ceremonial bath each day. I saw a fellow who’d been buried up to his neck for nine days. He said hello in English as I passed. I saw a Baba with a withered arm since he’d held it aloft for many years.
There were elephants, horses, cows and, of course, dogs running all around. There was a spirit or a pervasive vibration, so to speak, of spirituality, of oneness. I watched the people, the animals, the life, and it occurred to me that I’d never see a spectacle to match the Kumbh Mela again in this life.
It had rained hard the night before. So there was no dry place to sit and eventually, exhausted, I sort of plopped myself down right in the middle of a muddy path, leaned against a tent pole to rest, to meditate. If I fell asleep it was not any form of slumber I’d ever had before. But, when I awoke I found myself in the centre of a circle of yogis chanting mantras near a fire that lit up the night.
The peace in the camp of those yogis was palpable and so incredibly welcome. It was truly remarkable. They meditated, chanted, played their dotars, softly drummed and by the dawn a mist created a surreal and otherworldly effect. One of the yogis placed a bowl of curd and sweets in front of me that tasted as rich and wonderful as if it had come from a five-star hotel.
I’ve carried the memory of that night, the deep sense of peace, wellness, oneness, through all these years. Having been embraced so fully by complete strangers was profound. It was as if they were saying: "There’s no such thing as strangers, not really.”
By: Nathan Vanek