‘Kumbha’ means collection. It was the first thing that came to my mind with this word. It is said to be the greatest congregation of mankind for any religious motive. Dreading the uncontrolled crowd that gave rise to chaos and unhygienic environment, I had resolved not to visit the fair. I haven’t visited it earlier, too.
All of a sudden, I got an inner call – what is it that draws people from all over the world every 12 years. Let me explore. But people have planned and made bookings as early as 3 months in advance, and here I am willing to set on the pilgrimage with absolutely nothing, save an inquisitive mind and a telephone number.
A friend of mine and I took a train to Bhopal from New Delhi. From Bhopal, we reached Ujjain by a shared taxi in 4hrs – the place where Simhastha Kumbha Mela is being organized for a month starting 22nd April 2016. This one month is considered to be very auspicious because drops of Amrit (nectar) is supposed to have fallen in the water of Kshipra river while Indra’s son Jayanta was escaping with the urn containing nectar that emerged out of sea as a result of Samudra Manthan; he wanted only the gods to consume it and not the demons. During this month, lakhs of devotees take a dip in the Kshipra river every day with the hope to taste Amrit and attain salvation.
It was in the evening of 7th May and the sun was about to set when we reached the taxi stand of mela ground and immediately got lost in the sea of tents, hordes of people and melody of discourses, bhajans and announcements constantly blurting out of innumerable public address systems. The fair was organized in a vast expanse of 15 square Kms dotted with the shivirs (tents) of hundreds of religious organisations with the festoons and massive hoardings of their leaders donning the entrance gates. People from all the groups of our society formed the crowd and it was nearly impossible to make out what the other person was saying in that mayhem. Despite there were policemen all around doing a commendable job in helping the visitors, we roamed for more than an hour but could not find our place of stay. All of a sudden, we saw around 300 monks in ochre robes of a particular sect approaching us from the opposite direction. We forgot everything and gaped with bewilderment till the last person in the group passed by us. They are the people who had given up the comforts of life in search of Truth.
By that time the sun had set and it was dark. The whole ground was deluged by electric lights with white, orange and yellow tents appearing as marks of sandal paste applied on its body. We were dead tired walking on the dusty and murky road caused by the sudden rain and storm two days ago. When we were contemplating what to do next, out of darkness appeared a figure and enquired if I was searching for something. I nodded in affirmative and told him the name of our destination. He asked us to follow him and started walking. We were startled and again mentioned the name, clearing our parched throats this time. He said he was going there only. With no other alternative in sight, we resigned ourselves in the hand of destiny. After 5 minutes of walk, we reached the desired place and were greeted by the head swami of the ashrama with a benevolent smile and open arms.
After exchange of pleasantries, swamiji showed us our camp, offered tea and assured to assist us in taking bath next day and a darshan of Mahakaleshwar Shiva – one of the 12 famous Jyotirlingas. We had our night prasad (dinner) along with all other swamis in the camp and retired to bed.
Next day we woke up at 3.30am, got ready and left the camp at 4am. Two swamis accompanied us. Though it was still dark, there were steady stream of devotees on the roads leading to the ghats. Everybody wanted to have a dip in the Brahma-muhurta ( before the sunrise). We found a relatively less crowded place at Ram Ghat and did our snan to our hearts content. I also took a dip specifically for my relatives and friends – those who could not make it to Kumbha. After that, it was an arduous task to change our wet clothes– which we managed somehow.
We set forth on the darshan of Shakti Pith, other Shiva temples and ultimately to Mahakaleshwar. It was our great fortune that the temple was not crowded and we hurriedly walked past the long, winding and sloping ramp to reach the Darshan Gallery. Ujjain is considered to be the central point of universe and Mahakaleshwar is the ‘Lord of Time’ (or the place). It gave me an ethereal feeling while prostrating in front of the shiva linga and praying for the welfare of one and all. I was fortunate enough to enjoy several of his miracles and have his darshan too. What more could I ask for?
I understood the new meaning of Kumbha- it is not collection, rather it is ‘distribution’. It is distribution of love and compassion to one and all; and recollection of that experience for many years to come.