More than a crore people in two days in a city like Ujjain, coming from all directions, belonging to different sects, carrying varied ideas of religion, but with a common belief that the mind needs an anchor in faith — this is the scene that greets a visitor to the Kumbh Mela.
Experiencing the fourth Kumbh Mela in my journalistic career so far — three in Nashik and the one at present in Ujjain — what keeps on ringing in my mind again and again is the question, “What draws so many people to the Kumbh Mela?”
In today’s times, the reasons may be varied, the roots of which can be found in culture, tradition, inquisitiveness, fear, guilt, business, work, study or just the sheer desire to see the craze for oneself.
As I began my bus journey for the Ujjain Kumbh Mela from Nashik, I realised that I was not the only one to travel to Indore for Ujjain — there were many others who wanted to seize the opportunity of taking the last shahi snan of this Kumbh Mela.
I had painted a picture in my head of the Kshipra river and the Kumbh Mela settlement around it. However, the reality was largely different from what I had thought. The akhadas and the mela in Ujjain were spread across 3,061 hectares with an additional 352 hectares for the satellite town as against 350 hectares of the sadhugram and additional hectares for parking and other facilities in Nashik. However, this bigger space also meant that in Ujjain, the akhadas were spread out in their location. This made navigation difficult for the common commuter travelling on foot.
But the administration and police worked relentlessly to ensure that the event went off as smoothly as possible. The locals, too, played a major role in hosting the large number of people coming to the town. Every home had as many guests, or at times more, it could accommodate.
The main activity was on the Dutta ghat, where the Shaiva akhadas took their holy dip, and on the Ram ghat opposite it, where the Vaishnav akhads did the same.
But even as all the mayhem unfolded around me, I was still trying to search for an answer to my question — why are people attracted to this event, despite the inconvenience it entails? And in spite of racking my brain for different answers, the one that seemed the simplest was ‘deep faith’. That is the anchor in their lives which drives them to brave all odds and attend the Kumbh Mela each and every year.