Special Report:  Kumbha Mela 2001

Allahabad – 21th February, 2001

Kumbh Mela 2001 ends with Maha Shivratri
by Tony Fernandes

Maha Shivratri was an extraordinary day here in Allahabad. Only a few pilgrims decided to come here the previous day to camp overnight. Almost 95 percent arrived on the day itself and left by evening. Not many came from other states making this the most local event of the whole 44 day Kumbh Mela. There were very few traffic restrictions because there was a lot of parking space now available on the Kumbh grounds. Estimates of attendance ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 million. I believe between 800,000 to 900,000 had their Maha Shivratri snan in and around the Sangam today.

The Kumbh Mela is now over. Looking back it almost seems like it never happened. Was it a dream?

A number of temples in Allahabad and the surrounding areas were also packed with pilgrims. Lord Shiva plays a big part in the mythological story of the Ganga’s arrival here on Earth. In order to prevent the Earth being flooded, He caught the Ganga in the locks of His hair and gradually released Her onto the plains of India. In Images and pictures He is seen with the crescent Moon on His head as well as with the Ganga sprouting out of his hair like a fountain. On Maha Shivratri, pilgrims visit Shiva temples to pray and perform the Rudrabhisek (pouring water or a cocktail of water, milk, honey and other ingredients over the Shiva Lingam in a place of worship) People who live near the Ganga usually go to the Ganga first before visiting the temple. Having had their snan in the sacred river they take Ganga jal (Ganga water) with them to perform the abhisek at the temple. A large percentage of pilgrims who had their snan at the Sangam visited the Mankameshwar temple located at the Saraswati ghat on the banks of the Yamuna to perform their abhisek. This temple is more popular, not because it is near the Sangam, but because it has strong Shakti energy. Pilgrims swear by it and their display of faith here speaks for itself. Large congregations were also seen at many other temples all over the city.

The Pandila Mahadev temple in a village 12 kilometres from Allahabad saw the largest congregation of all. The shakti energy here draws the faithful from far away. I left Allahabad for this village at 5.20am. On my way I stopped at the Phaphamau bridge in the north of the city to collect my Ganga jal. The crescent moon in the sky was shaped exactly like the one on Shiva’s head. The road leading to the village temple passes through green fields and other small villages. The village itself is unremarkable until one gets to the temple. It seemed like there was an irresistible force there drawing pilgrims to it. After leaving it, I somehow felt strangely fulfilled. Since it was Shiva who brought down the Ganga to us, I thought it only natural that we take some of it back to Him as a thank you. After struggling to get past the throngs to reach Allahabad I visited the Sangam and the temples of Mankameshwar, Shiv Kuti, Bharatdwaj Muni and others. By midnight I felt as if I was in another space and on a different plane.

Varanasi had a replay of scenes from the Kumbh Mela. The Varanasi area is covered with hundreds of temples and shrines. The most famous is the Kashi Vishwanath temple, which is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country. A number of the Akaharas and hundreds of Naga Sadhus who had vacated their camping grounds here after Basant Panchami, settled in Varanasi waiting for Maha Shivratri. They began their procession at 7am from the Hanuman ghat. The temple was closed to all other pilgrims until the Nagas has finished praying at 10am. Security was a major concern because of the sensitive issue surrounding the Gyanvapi mosque. A number of Shiv Sainiks (members of the militant Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena organisation) were arrested while they were marching towards the mosque from the railway station. Varanasi is also a place where people can smoke marijuana openly. Stalls in many places sell Bhang (fresh dark green marijuana leaf paste) mixed with milk, lassi or any drink of your choice. Bhang is considered to be Lord Shiva’s prasad (blessed gift). Hundreds of kilos of the stuff were consumed during Shivratri in Varanasi. During the Kumbh Mela too massive amounts of marijuana was consumed.

Over 100,000 visited the Lodheshwar temple which is also situated in Uttar Pradesh. Many pilgrims chose to walk for days to get there even though they had the option of taking buses. No women are allowed to enter the Lodheshwar temple and so perhaps to make up for their absence, a group of devotees known as kanvarthis wear colourful dresses and rings on their legs when they visit it.

 

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