Pilgrims take a holy dip in Shipra River on the third and the last ‘shahi snan’ (royal bath) of month-long Simhastha Kumbh Mela, on May 21, 2016 in Ujjain, India. The Ujjain Kumbh is one of the four fairs traditionally recognized as Kumbha Melas. It is celebrated when Jupiter ascends into sun sign Leo’s quarter or the Simha constellation of zodiac, which is why it is called ‘Simhastha’. Ujjain is also the seat of divine Mahakal, the Lord of all times | Hindustan Times via Getty Images
In Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh district, priests of an ancient Shiva temple offer a certificate that brands you ‘sin-free’. The centuries-old practice at the Gautameshwar Mahadev Paapmochan Teertha, in Arnod town, 18 kilometres away from Pratapgarh, requires ‘sinners’ to take a holy dip in the temple’s kund (small tank or reservoir), and pay ₹10 for dosh-nivaran (removing obstacles) and another ₹1 for the certificate.
The temple, known as ‘Haridwar of tribals’, reportedly has maintained a record of all those who have got ‘certified’ since India’s independence.
“People ostracised in their villages come here to take a dip and go back with ‘paap-mukti’ certificates,” temple priest Nandkishore Sharma told The Times of India. The clientele reportedly includes farmers who inadvertently kill birds, insects and animals, and is extremely popular among tribals in the area. It reportedly all began with the sage Gautam Rishi, who, according to legend, was freed from a curse after he took a dip in the temple’s kund.
While the practice of taking a dip in holy water is not new to Hinduism, the paper certificates are an interesting addition.
The temple has the most number of devotees during the month of May, when the eight-day Gautameshwar fair is held. However, despite an increase in the footfall of visitors, the total number of certifications have reportedly gone down. During the fair earlier this month, only three people asked for a certificate, even though more than two lakh people took the holy dip, Sharma told TOI.