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Ardh Kumbh - A stellar show of faith

Ardh Kumbh - A stellar show of faith
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“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without...

Going to Ardh Kumbh in the holy city of Haridwar is a mind-boggling experience, quite unlike any other, even for someone who isn’t quite religious

“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.”

Mark Twain, the famous writer had documented in his diary when in 1895 he had the privilege of attending the Kumbh Mela. His words ring true even today, more than hundred years later, as the curtain of Ardh Kumbh recently went up in the holy city of Haridwar on January 14.

Kumbh Mela, a very sacred Hindu pilgrimage, is the largest gathering of people in the world for a religious purpose. ‘Kumbha’ is a Sanskrit word for Pitcher, sometimes also referred to as the Kalasha. The exact age of the festival is doubtful.

However, the Kumbh Mela (sometimes specifically called Purna Kumbh or (full kumbh), is celebrated four times every 12 years, the site of the observance rotating between four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers. Ardh Kumbh (half kumbh) Mela occurs between the two Purna Kumbha Melas at Prayag and Haridwar. The Maha Kumbh occurs after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas - once every 144 years.

The Kumbh is really an awesome event as millions of devotees, in a state of heightened frenzy and at the height of a freezing winter, congregate to take a dip in the holy waters. Bare bodied, skins touching, loincloths clinging, matted hair dripping, the combined act of cleansing in a river that remains pristine (in the literal sense) only in the sacred texts is really an amazing sight.

It requires a certain amount of determination and grit to do this because you must be ready to forego as you enter the chilly waters. It’s also a spectacle to behold the various akharas (an organisation of different sects of saints, and yogis who have renounced the world), making it to the river for the great bath on Kumbh days.

As has been the tradition for years, this year too, before the beginning of the Ardh Kumbh mela at Haridwar, Ganga worship was organised on a large scale at the sanctum sanctorum Har Ki Pauri, which was attended by akhara representatives, saints, social activists and eminent people of the city.

Though all the Kumbh Melas enjoy almost similar quantity of devotees, the name Haridwar itself holds a special place in the minds of all pilgrims. This is due to the fact that the place is termed as the gateway to heaven in Hindu mythological scriptures. Hence, the Kumbh Mela of Haridwar enjoys exceptional media coverage and footfall.

Attending the Ardh Kumbh at Haridwar was an experience quite unlike any other, especially for someone like me who isn’t quite religious. I was with a friend and we explored not just spiritualism and faith, but also interacted with people from all walks of life. I happened to land up at the akhara of Naga sadhus.

It was not planned, but I got to see them from quite a close distance and it was quite an experience. Many had ash smeared on their bodies; this, I learnt was to keep them warm especially as Kumbh takes place during the cold winter.

As I moved around the camp, there was one sound that followed me everywhere, and this was the sound of loud speakers making announcements from the 'Lost and Found' section. It was heart breaking to hear cries of young children yelling their names and calling out to their parents.

Thankfully, as we learnt from the mela organisers, most of these have a happy ending. I also heard numerous old men and women calling out to their children to take them back. Often, these calls go unheeded as some misuse the mayhem of Kumbh to abandon their old parents here. The frail parents sometimes do not remember their homes and villages well and often have no money to go back.

Some of them find a place in an ashram, many become beggars on the streets and some simply perish.If you want to truly understand and undergo the Kumbh experience, it is recommended to attend one of the Shahi Snan (special bath) days.

And do not miss taking a holy dip – as you join thousands of devotees taking bath in the holy river to absolve themselves of their sins and seek salvation for the souls of their ancestors. The experience is sure to be mind-boggling!

Haridwar Ardh Kumbh Mela 2016 Main/Special Bathing ( Snan ) Dates
14 January 2016 Thursday Makar Sankranti
8 February 2016 Monday Somwati Amavasya
12 February 2016 Friday Vasant Panchami
22 February 2016 Monday Magh Purnima
7 March 2016 Monday Mahashivratri
7 April 2016 Thursday Chaitra Amavasya
8 April 2016 Friday Chaitra Shukla Pratipada
14 April 2016 Thursday Mesha Sankranti
15 April 2016 Friday Ram Navami
22April 2016 Friday Chaitra shukla Purnima

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