No One Knows Me! – A Devotees Story From Long Ago.

Sathya Sai Baba in the early days. Under the old Banyan Tree in Whitefield.

 

A brilliant Indian student by the name of Vemu Mukunda had taken science courses at universities in India. Then he left his motherland to conduct post graduate research in Scotland. He took a job in England working in the field of nuclear science. Although outwardly he seemed to have successfully established himself in his chosen field, yet he was not happy. He had left his family, friends, and culture behind and now found himself living in an environment where the advancements in technology were considered the highest goal and his only social life consisted of attending endless rounds of cocktail parties. He felt his life was empty and without purpose and this feeling came to a crisis point when his brother and sister both died back in India. Furthermore the negative use of nuclear science to build weapons of mass destruction weighed on his conscience and made him question his choice of career. He began to sink into a state of chronic depression which was only briefly relieved by the release he felt when he made music on the Indian stringed Veena that he had played since childhood.

 

It was during that period of black despair that a series of strange incidents occurred to bring a new influence into his life. By coincidence, a mutual friend in London had a veena at home that was badly damaged and when he heard of Vemu’s skill with the instrument he invited him to his home to see if he might be able to repair the instrument. Vemu went to the home along with some friends and indeed found the instrument so badly damaged that he was completely unable to get any pleasant sounds out of it at all. However he agreed to take the instrument back to his home and see if he could repair it.

On the way home, the friends who had brought him wanted to stop at a house where they knew the residents were conducting Sai Baba bhajan sessions (sacred singing). Though Vemu had no special interest in doing so, since he was riding with them he went along with the plan.

When they arrived at the house and went in, he saw a picture of Sathya Sai Baba on the wall and immediately had the thought: “Oh, no not him”. His parents had been followers of Shirdi Sai Baba and they felt that Sathya Sai Baba, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, was an imposter and so Vemu had also taken on this attitude. Shirdi Sai Baba left his body in 1918 and many of his original followers were unwilling to believe that he had taken on the Sathya Sai form eight years later (Sathya Sai was born in 1926) even though Shirdi Sai Baba had told his followers just before his death that he would take birth again eight years hence.

Vemu had no interest in the bhajans and so he sat behind the other singers and took no part in the singing. However during a lull in the bhajans the hostess put a veena in his hands and asked him to play something. In an abstracted mood he began to strum the instrument and presently a tune came into his head and he began to play. The others very much enjoyed his playing and when the song ended they asked him to play another song. He agreed, playing the first tune that came to mind. At the end of the second song, he suddenly realized that the two songs he had just played had been composed by two different Indian Saints but the titles of the songs had the same meaning in the respective languages of the composers: “No One is Equal to You”.

Now Vemu looked down at the veena he had been playing and realized that it was the badly damaged one he had been taking home to repair. But mysteriously, every note he had played on it had been completely harmonious. Now he tried to play it consciously and not a single harmonious note would come out of it. He began to feel as if something miraculous had occurred and he felt the hair on his head standing on end.

He thought to himself: “Sai Baba! What power. Is he a black magician?”

After this incident Vemu began to get invitations to play professionally. He accepted whenever it fit into his schedule and strangely, wherever he played he would run into someone who would talk about Sathya Sai Baba. At home his friends in London kept pressing him to attend Sai Baba bhajan sessions. He began to feel that he was being pursued by Sai Baba!

Vemu had been schooled on the principles of science and so his confidence was more on the field of matter than that of the spirit. He felt that the realm of spirit was only a way by which some people escaped from harsh reality. And yet some part of him wanted to proceed into the spiritual realm while the other part wanted nothing to do with it. His mental torment increased and he felt himself being torn in two different directions. He continued to resist the spiritual impulse and yet, the world of physics and materialism had lost its charm for him.

Finally in a state of complete desperation he sat down and addressed a letter to Sathya Sai Baba at his residence at Prasanthi Nilayam. Although he had heard that Sai Baba does not answer directly by writing back, it was said that he would provide the answer in some more direct form. He poured out his heart’s dilemma asking Sai Baba if he should continue in his chosen profession of nuclear engineering, quit and become a full time musician, or renounce the world and become a religious devotee (Sannyasi).

As he boarded a flight to Paris for a Veena concert, he wondered how and in what form he might receive a response to his letter but nothing unusual happened on the trip. On his return to London, he began to feel an inexplicable urge to visit the same home where he had played the damaged veena during the bhajan session. This was curious to him since he didn’t even want to go there the first time. He ignored the urge for a while but finally gave in. Approaching the house, he noticed the “Om Sai” written on the front of the house. The owner of the house, Mrs Sitabai, greeted him at the door and told him she was very glad he had come because she had something for him. They went to the shrine room and she handed him a photograph telling him an unknown visitor had attended the last bhajan session and had asked that the picture be given to Vemu as soon as possible. He looked at the photograph and saw that it was a picture of Sathya Sai Baba playing the veena!

He was immediately overcome with emotion and surrendered to Sai Baba by prostrating before the large photo of him on the wall. Tears of emotion ran down his cheeks. He knew now that he had his answer. He soon quit his job and became a full time musician. His reputation as a skilled veena musician spread and he began to get calls from all over Europe, including as far away as Russia. He felt that somehow his sudden success was due in part to the guiding hand of Sathya Sai Baba and he began to feel that he wanted to return to India and visit him. At about this time his mother and father were also asking him to return to India to see them and so he began to think seriously about making the trip home. But at the back of his mind was a fear that all the events were just coincidences and the result of his own imagination and that Sai Baba might refuse to see him. It would be a great disappointment to him if Sai Baba ignored him.

He decided to write to a friend and have him ask if he should come to visit Sai Baba. Soon afterwards he had a vivid dream in which Sai Baba came to him and rubbed his sacred ash (vibhutti) on his left shoulder beneath his shirt and said to him: “Come to India”. When he awoke the dream seemed very real but he still felt that it might have been created out of his wish to go to India to see the great teacher. After several days of struggle he made up his mind to go so he canceled all his performance reservations and took a plane to India.

When he arrived at Swami’s (i.e. Sai Baba’s) residence he took his place on the grounds at the end of a line of men. One of the devotees told him that he had arrived just in time for Darshan, in which Sai Baba circulates among his devotees giving sight of a holy person. Vemu sat quietly enjoying the feeling of peace that emanated from the place and waited patiently. Soon there was a stir at the other end of the lines and he caught sight of the orange colored robe of Sai Baba as he circulated slowly, gracefully among the devotees, stopping briefly to talk to some, to create vibhutti for some lucky ones, or to take letters from others. As Sai Baba got closer, Vemu felt his excitement and anxiety increase. As he saw the robe and delicate feet approach him he could not bear to look directly into his face, encircled with a halo of hair and so he cast his glance downward onto the ground. His heart was in his mouth and his body became rigid as he noticed the feet approach ever closer. Vemu had written a letter to give to Sai Baba but he had completely lost his wits and did not even think to hand it to him. He felt Baba take the letter from his hand and then he raised him up and he heard him say in a quiet voice: “Go inside and wait”.

Vemu went inside and when at last he faced Sai Baba alone in the interview room, Sai Baba created vibhutti for him and rubbed it on his left shoulder under his shirt just as he had done in the dream. Then Sai Baba began to discuss the obstacles in his life showing complete familiarity with his career struggle, his desire to play the veena, his depression, and other details of his daily life. As the talk ended, Baba circled his hand and produced out of air a five faced rudraksha bead in a gold setting at the end of a gold chain. He gave it to Vemu to wear constantly and told him that he would have great success both in his new career and in his spiritual progress. He then invited Vemu to play the veena at a musical concert to be held at the Sathya Sai College in Brindavan.

When the time of the concert came, Vemu brought along his eighty year old father who had been a close devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba. His father told the son he would just sit outside on the outer grounds and wait. But when Sai Baba learned the father was present he immediately called him inside and in Vemu’s words: “For a whole hour Swami talked to my father like a loving mother to her child. After that my father was a changed man.” Now the entire family, Vemu’s father, mother, brother and all the other members of the family are followers of Sathya Sai Baba.

From a story that appears in its original form in Sai Baba, Avatar by Howard Murphet. Birth Day Publishing. San Diego, CA.

This book contains a whole collection of devotee’s stories as well as the personal experiences of the author with Sai Baba.

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue! -Nostalsia

 

Have you had moments when your past just floods over you and for a split second you are back there in another time? Time and space at such moments, I find disappear, as I actually relive my past. The other day I was listening to Peter, Paul and Mary and the song, “Early Morning Rain” played. I seemed to lose all consciousness of being in the  “here and now”for suddenly, i was back at Dulles airport in Reston, Va, USA -waiting for the plane that would take my little baby daughter and me back to London.

 

It was a deadfully chaotic evening I remember.  Leanne was quite upset and cying. The stormy weather, so bad, the plane had been held up somewhere due to a broken window pane. All the passengers looked tired and anxious. I remember nothing more of that night but that one scene. For some odd reason it is frozen in my memory. There would be many trips back to London in the coming eight years and most were pretty chaotic.

 

Reston, Va. (Virgina) was a fabulous place to live back then. It had a charm and even an innocence that I am sure has faded over the years. I remember my introduction to everything spiritual came from the hippy-type community who lived in around Reston in those days. I met so many now famous people (in the spiritual sense)  in those years there and attended many insightful workshops and events, that were to carve out a spiritual “life” jouney, I could never have imagined at the time.

 

We often visited Georgetown’s Yes bookshop on a Sunday afternoon.  It was an esoteric bookshop full of  New Age teachings and others too from the East. My mind just boggled at the sight of those marvellous books, filled with mystery and adventure. My curiosity ran wild as I looked through books on Yoga, Philosophy, Astral Travel, Reincarnation and those books that promised to predict the future.

 

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Not  the original as we knew it

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It was on one of our visits to the Yes bookshop that I was introduced to Sai Baba. Looking back at how that happened, now makes me smile and wonder just how much of a coincidence it was. I stood in one of the dark aisles looking through books written by Lobsang Rampa who happened to be very popular at the time, when a young man tapped me on the shoulder. I quickly turned around to look into the face of the most handsome man one could imagine meeting. My eyes popped. He smiled sweetly. Then, in an easy style, he said, “Oh I see you are reading rubbish!.”  I was shocked by his assessment  of my reading material and with a shy answer I said I did not think the books were rubbish. “Oh yes they are” came his reply. “Let me show you something better.” He smiled again and led me to another book-aisle. He paused for awhile in front of shelves of books on Indian Philosophy. Then, with another smile, he pulled out a small paperback book – looking all old and tatty. He handed it to me and said, “This is an excellent book.” The title of the book was Man of Miracles. The cover portrayed a little man in an orange dress with a very large afro hairdo. I wasn’t impressed. I tried putting it back on the shelf but the young man insisted I buy it. I told him no. I could not afford it. He then replied, “I will buy it for you.” I smiled at his insistence to buy the book for me. He told me briefly that this book would change my life and that would be a good thing. I surrendered to his wish and we both walked over to the counter, where he paid for the book and handed it to me. Before he left, he wrote in the back of the book, the name and address of a group of people who could tell me more about Sai Baba. The address was Bethesda Maryland. With that he left the bookshop so much to my dismay. To be honest I was more interested in him, than the book!

I took the book home and placed it in the bookcase but i never read it. It was not until years later, when we were in Australia, that a chance meeting with a lady from the Findhorn Society, that the name Sai Baba came up again. She’d just returned from a long visit to his ashram and had many experiences to share.

 

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“The past is a candle at great distance: too close to let you quit, too far to comfort you.”  -Amy Bloom

 

 

 

Reston - back then
Reston – back then

 

 

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Wolf Trap – the one we knew and loved was burned down in the early 1980s

Lake Anne as I remember it.
Lake Anne as I remember it.

 

 

T he J. Plaza, Reston where we lived for sometime.
T he J. Plaza, Reston where we lived for sometime.

 

 

My usual place to sit and eat ice-cream
My usual place to sit and eat ice-cream

Music was so much part  of our lives in Reston

 

 

Leanne growing up in Reston, Va.
Leanne growing up in Reston, Va.

Cosmic Christ – Living The Holiest Of Myseries

Cosmic Christ was created between 1999 and 2000 with oil paints on a wood surface by artist Alex Grey. It is surrounded by and part of a carved wooden frame. It is presently the centerpiece of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in New York, his personally created sanctuary for the inspiration of other artists. It is not only a wonderful representation of the work that he does, but an incredibly powerful and symbolic piece of art.
Cosmic Christ was created between 1999 and 2000 with oil paints on a wood surface by artist Alex Grey. It is surrounded by and part of a carved wooden frame. It is presently the centerpiece of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in New York, his personally created sanctuary for the inspiration of other artists. It is not only a wonderful representation of the work that he does, but an incredibly powerful and symbolic piece of art.

 

 

“About Fr. Bede Griffiths. The first thing he taught me was that the true Christ path is terrifyingly humble. He would never claim enlightenment. He would never claim to be a master. He would never claim to be a guru. He absolutely loathed hierarchy and separation” ~ A.H.

 

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Hari Dass, a yoga teacher in India, once wrote on his chalkboard: If a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are his pockets.

For those folks reading this, we all understand we are on a spiritual journey. We may also understand that, from within the illusion of our separateness, what we perceive is relative reality, what in India is called  maya, the projected illusion of subject and objects. All around us, there are various levels of relative reality. When we begin to awaken to our predicament that we are trapped in illusion, we begin to see through the dreamlike quality of the veils of illusion. Everything we thought was real we now see as maya or (illusion.) So when we polish the mirror of illusion, we find staring back at us is our own habitual desires, created by our perceptual universe. In that sense we can say our reality is a projection of how we identify ourselves. Hari Dass, a yoga teacher in India, once wrote on his chalkboard: If a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are his pockets.” – how true is that? A good teacher will be one filled with light and humility who does not see seperation. One who will dust our  Self-Mirror and redirect us towards the light,  the truth and away from our own false habitual mind.

 

 

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From the writings of Andrew Harvey

And it was then that I met the man who changed my life. In 1993, when he was eighty-six, I met Father Bede Griffiths, and that brought everything that I had hitherto experienced together, because here was a being at the very highest level of awareness, who married the Eastern traditions with the Western traditions, who came from England, who had been to Oxford, but who was living out this utterly brave, naked, evolutionary life in the middle of India, fifty miles from the place where I was born. So I believe that we were destined to meet. I was destined to be at the feet of this transcendent and holy and beautiful man, and he was destined to break my heart, and to break my heart open, and to teach me by his presence three things.

The first thing he taught me was that the true Christ path is terrifyingly humble. He would never claim enlightenment. He would never claim to be a master. He would never claim to be a guru. He absolutely loathed hierarchy and separation. For him, Jesus had communicated in the tenderness of ecstatic friendship, and that was the way this great truth of the divinity of human beings was to be exchanged.

The second thing that he communicated to me was that the relationship with Jesus and the Cosmic Christ—Jesus, both Jesus the being and Jesus the archetypal face of the Cosmic Christ— that relationship that Mechtild of Magdeburg ecstasized over, that relationship that drove the whole life of Theresa of Avila, that relationship that gave the Cure of Ars the power to go and heal day after day after day in his tiny parish, that relationship that drove Francis into the arms of a divine love that enabled him to re-experience the crucifixion—that relationship was not some poetic, tender fiction. That relationship was the relationship that was clearly transfiguring this holy man, and it was something to him more naked and more real than anything else. And so it became so for me.

 

painting from the late and great mystic Daskalos
painting from the late and great mystic Daskalos

And the third thing that Bede communicated to me—and this is the key of the key of the mystery that is coming through the Christ path, I believe—the third thing that Bede communicated to me was the revelation that was coming to him in his eighties of what in the Greek Orthodox tradition is called theosis. And theosis means transfiguration. And from St. Macarius onwards in the fourth century to Romanian priests(?) in our current century and to Bede himself, we have had examples that have been celebrated and noted of human beings who so adored the revelation of love and wisdom in Jesus and in the exploding vision of the Cosmic Christ, that through intense discipline and intense love they transformed their minds, they illumined their hearts, and they also progressively became so flooded in their bodies by divine light that their bodies began to be transfigured by light.

Bede knew that he was living this holiest of mysteries. And for him, he would say the first big bang began the universe creation; the resurrection was the second big bang that began the creation of a divine humanity; and the radiation of that resurrection power and force is what the humble lover and servant of the Cosmic Christ, if they love enough and if they are rigorous and disciplined and purified enough, can access for a total transformation of the total being.

 

You Tube with Father Bede speaking about the Black Madonna

Seeing Everything As A Gift – Inspirational

Photo from Corlay, Brittany, 2014
Photo from Corlay, a small village in central  Brittany,

Walking around with my camera as I tend to do,  I never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, until something appears I want to photograph. The picture here is of a path, one I regularly visit.  While shooting  the photo, I’d focused on the trees only, thus, had not seen the lady with the white dog. Sitting later in the computer room, editing the photo, the lady in the far background suddenly became visible.  How had I missed her? She was wearing  a red coat, a colour that stands out, but somehow I had not seen her. Now, I wonder was she real or was she a phantom?  I will never know. She is a pleasing gift for this photo though.   Thank you lady in the Red Coat!   


“As we traversed rural India at the speed of a couple of miles per hour, it became clear how much we could learn simply by bearing witness to the villagers’ way of life. Their entire mental model is different—the multiplication of wants is replaced by the basic fulfillment of human needs. When you are no longer preoccupied with asking for more and more stuff, then you just take what is given and give what is taken. Life is simple again. A farmer explained it to us this way: “You cannot make the clouds rain more, you cannot make the sun shine less. They are just nature’s gifts—take it or leave it.”

When the things around you are seen as gifts, they are no longer a means to an end; they are the means and the end. And thus, a cow-herder will tend to his animals with the compassion of a father, a village woman will wait three hours for a delayed bus without a trace of anger, a child will spend countless hours fascinated by stars in the galaxy, and finding his place in the vast cosmos.

So with today’s modernized tools at your ready disposal, don’t let yourself zoom obliviously from point A to point B on the highways of life; try walking the back roads of the world, where you will witness a profoundly inextricable connection with all living things.”

–Nipun Mehta, PATHS ARE MADE FOR WALKING: Four steps to take on the road of life


Here are several other favourite paths from central Brittany, France. “Photos of Fall”

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a favourite path
a favourite path

We Don’t “Cook” Easily – Spirituality

There is a story about an old Zen monk who was dying, who had finished everything and was about to get off the wheel. He was just floating away, free and in his pure Buddha-mind, when a thought passed by of a beautiful deer he had once seen in a field. And he held on to that thought for just a second because of its beauty, and immediately he took birth again as a deer. It’s as subtle as that. It’s like when we begin to see the work that is to be done, and we go to an ashram or a monastery, or we hang out with satsang. We surround ourselves with a community of beings who think the way we think. And then none of the stuff, the really hairy stuff inside ourselves, comes up. It all gets pushed underground.
We can sit in a temple or a cave in India and get so holy, so clear and radiant, the light is pouring out of us. But when we come out of that cave, when we leave that supportive structure that worked with our strengths but seldom confronted us with our weaknesses, our old habit-patterns tend to reappear, and we come back into the same old games – the games we were sure we had finished with. Why? Because there were uncooked seeds, seeds of desires that sprout again the minute they are stimulated. We can stay in very holy places, and the seeds sit there dormant and uncooked. But there is fear in such individuals, because they know they’re still vulnerable.
Nothing goes under the rug. We can’t hide in our highness any more than we’ve hidden in our unworthiness. If we’ve finally decided we want God, we’ve got to give it all up. The process is one of keeping the ground as we go up, so we always have ground, so that we’re high and low at the same moment – that’s a tough game to learn, but it’s a very important one. So at the same moment that if I could, I would like to take us all up higher and higher, so we can see that the game isn’t to get high – the game is to get balanced and liberated.
– Ram Dass – excerpt from Grist for the Mill.

Photos – Sathya Sai Memories

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Beautiful Reflection : A photo of Swami the way he used to look in Whitefield during Bhajans (1990-2001). This  photo sums up all my yesterdays with Him in India. The days of sunshine, the laughter, the joy, also to remember the many gifts of sweets that would fall into my lap, or on the ground under my shawl, or bounce off from my hair-band to fall often into my clothes during darshan, and of course,  kept forever or until I just had to eat one while remembering the moment.  Then the days of tears,  the learning, those tedious  days when he seemed so far away, and when life itself seemed so unforgiving.  

Keenly remembered are those days of magical mystery and the days that brought me moments to keep forever in my heart. … Gosh! would i do it all again? Those times of illness, bad  flu, the sitting in the sun for hours, the sweat, the burnt feet on hot concrete and  sharp sand and those sand flies, dirty toilets, the “sting” of the severest of all – the ” seva dals!” Would I do it all again? not sure – but I learned so much from my times spent there… I learned that we are not a body only, we are far greater than that piece of flesh we call ‘me’.. We are spiritual beings and our earthly clothes are mere garments of no real importance to that tiniest  spark of divinity within each one of us, which is eternal and forever… Sai Ram, eve

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Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 – Children of Light

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Your FaceBook Link to the Kumbh Mela, 2013

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Happy to present facts on this most important Maha Kumbh Mela.  Being a keen photographer myself, the photographs I find are  pretty amazing… I thought you folks would also enjoy them. This was not an easy post to put together due to so many photos but worth the time, I feel….  

The Beginning

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Originally, the demigods had lost their strength from the curse of Durväsä Muni. To regain it, they approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, who directed all the demigods to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu. After prayers to Lord Vishnu, he instructed them to churn the ocean of milk Ksheera Sagara (the primordial ocean of milk) to receive amrita, the nectar of immortality. So they made a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the Asuras demons, to work together with a promise to share the wealth equally. However, when the Kumbha (urn or jar) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights, the equivalent to twelve human years, the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, Lord Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha of elixir but spilling drops of amrita at four locations: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.

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Celestial Aspects

Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign of Leo – Simha Rashi, it is held in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik. When the sun is in Aries – Mesha Rashi, it is celebrated at Haridwar. When Jupiter is in Taurus – Vrishabha Rashi, and the sun is in Capricorn – Makar Rashi, the Kumbha Mela is celebrated at Prayag; and when Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio – Vrishchik Rashi, the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain.

Each site’s celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter

Overview

This festival has been held on the banks of the Ganges for thousands of years.

The event, held every 12 years, is billed as the biggest gathering on Earth. More than 100 million people are expected to attend the 55-day festival.

The 2013 gathering is a Maha Kumbh and this only happens after 12 purna kumbhs or about every 144 years – and it is always held at Allahabad. Hence this year’s festival is known as a Maha Kumbh and will last for 55 days, a period of time determined by an astrological calculation described above.

Preparing For Millions

Sunday Evening

On Sunday night, smoke could be seen rising from hundreds of small fires which people had built to cook dinner or keep warm.

Monday 14 January,2013

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The festival formally started at dawn and all roads leading to the Kumbh Mela grounds are now packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Here is a run-down on this morning’s events :

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05:17 IST (23:47 GMT)

kumbha17At 5am, Sangam is a hub of frantic activity. Thousands of pilgrims have already taken a dip in the holy waters, thousands are lining up for their turn and thousands more are walking towards the river front.

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The air here smells smoky from all the fires which people have burned overnight to stay warm.

There is a chill in the air this morning as holy men sprint into the waters in Allahabad, but the day dawned warmer than in recent weeks when a cold snap hit northern India.

06:44 IST (01:14 GMT)

Sadhus on the banks of the river shout “Try it for yourself!”

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The first group of Naga sadhus (ascetics) arrived in a colourful procession. Led by naked ash-smeared men with marigold garlands around their necks, they sprinted into the chilly waters of Sangam.

Dip over, some came and stood before us rubbing coarse river sand on their bodies.

I was able to ask an old sadhu if he felt the cold. “Not at all” he said and handed me some sand: “Try it for yourself!”

07:33 IST (02:03 GMT)

kumbha1The sadhus from the Niranjani akhara (camp) arrive in a huge procession.

The naked ash-smeared men arrived in a colourful procession and waded into the chilly waters of Sangam – the point at which the rivers converge.

The sadhus have been leading processions accompanied by elephants, camels, horses, chariots and music bands in recent days.

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Ascetic and Horse

Although the sky is still dark, the bathing ghats are lit up with thousands of electric bulbs.

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The group of several hundred naked ascetics, has a reputation for being rather unfriendly and they are accompanied by the elite commandos of the RAF (rapid action force). The pesky journalists and tourists are reined in behind police lines “for your own protection,” we are told.

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The group takes 45 minutes to bathe after which they are escorted out by the RAF troops.

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08:56 IST (03:26 GMT)

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As waves of naked ash-smeared ascetics continue to arrive and sprint towards the river, thousands of bathers in nearby enclosures watch in awe.

One sadhu, with long matted hair, stops and does a joyous jig for the furiously clicking cameras.

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Women Ascetics Also Take Part in the Kumbh Mela

womanasceticIn a departure from tradition, a large number of women ascetics have also come for a bath at Sangam. Dressed in bright saffron-coloured saris and robes, they seemed to be enjoying all the attention. Some laughed and chatted amongst themselves, some even posed for pictures.

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the women kumbhaMeanwhile, in the next enclosure, thousands of ordinary pilgrims – men and women, old and young – are moving in orderly lines for their bathing rituals.

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11:00 IST (05:30 GMT)

kumbha16The crowd management at the river front so far has been impressive.

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As soon as pilgrims finish bathing, they are encouraged to move away and make space for other bathers.kumbha9

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Away from the river front, the mela area is bustling with small roadside vendors selling tea, sweets, colourful photographs of Hindu deities and small round white candies generally offered at the temple altar.

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Pilgrims Give Alms to Children Dressed as Hindu Gods

childgoddessOn one street, several toddlers dressed as Hindu deities sit by the roadside as many passing pilgrims hand them coins.

“Their parents are very clever,” an old man tells me, “for who can refuse alms to a pretty child dressed as a god or goddess?”

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Later

Several million people have been bathing at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Allahabad in India, on this opening day of the Kumbh Mela festival with at least 10 million pilgrims set to do so by the end of today.

Police estimated that, by late afternoon, about 7.5 million people had bathed. They also say that the festival is expected to draw over a million foreign tourists.

For festival-goers, one of the most memorable spectacles of the day was when the Naga sadhus, or ascetics, sprinted into the river reciting religious chants, many clad only in marigold garlands.

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In Numbers

  • Visitors: 80-100 million
  • Number of days: 55
  • Area: 20 sq km (4,932 acres)
  • Drinking water: 80 million litres
  • Toilets: 35,000
  • Doctors: 243
  • Police: 30,000
  • Hospitals: 14

Fourteen temporary hospitals have been set up with 243 doctors deployed round-the-clock, and more than 35,000 toilets have been built for the pilgrims.

Official Website of Kumbh Mela, 2013
Official Website of Kumbh Mela, 2013

The Magic of India, Mark Tully – Child of Light

marktully2Sir Mark Tully KBE, (born William Mark Tully in 1935) is the former Bureau Chief of BBC, New Delhi. He worked for BBC for a period of 30 years before resigning in July 1994. He held the position of Chief of Bureau, BBC, Delhi for 20 years.

Born in Calcutta, India, his father was a British businessman who was a partner in one of the leading managing agencies of the British Raj. Tully spent the first decade of his childhood in India, although without being allowed to socialise with Indian people, before going to England for schooling. He was educated at Twyford School, Marlborough College and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied Theology.

marktullyAs a guest of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue on 7 October 2010, Mr Tully spoke on “How Certain Should We Be? – The Problem of Religious Pluralism”. He described his experiences and the fact that India had historically been home to all the world’s major religions. He said that had taught him that there are many ways to God.

Tully is patron of the British branch of Child In Need India and is equally well versed in English and Hindi.

His report follows.

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The Mela

In my long years in India I have seen many spectacles but none so remarkable as the two Maha or Great Kumbh Melas which I attended.

kumbha4I have seen vast crowds assemble but none as big as the millions who flocked to the north Indian city of Allahabad to bathe at the confluence where the cloudy waters of the river Ganges meet the blue waters of the river Yamuna on the most auspicious day of those Melas.

I have never been more forcefully reminded that India’s age old culture still survives than I have been by those two Kumbh Melas.

A Variety of Pagentry

kumbha10Anyone who wants to enjoy the Kumbh Mela to the full must appreciate its many different aspects.

There was no frenzy, just the calm certainty of faith; the knowledge that “what had to be done had been done”

It is, of course, a great religious festival, the world’s largest we are told, but there is much more to it than just the great bathing day, spectacular though that is.

Most spectacular of all are the naked sadhus or holy men, who careen through the crowds dancing to the frenzied beat of drums and leaping in the air as they charge in to the river to bathe.

Then there are the sadhus to be seen on any day performing amazing acts of asceticism.

One sadhu I saw had held his arm up so long that it was withered and his nails curved round like talons, another was standing on one leg, and a third lying on a bed of thorns.

Philosophy

kumbha15At Kumbh Melas there is much religious teaching also, and a multitude of discourses.

They demonstrate the wide variety of Hindu traditions, and Hinduism’s tolerance too. Some of the discourses seemed to me obscure, some profound, and some surprising.

The devotees of the 15th Century saint Kabir told me they condemned images of the deities and maintained that washing under a tap was just as good as bathing in the Ganges. No-one seemed to object to their unorthodox views. Perhaps that’s because Hinduism is so varied that for most Hindus there is no concept of heresy.

Hindu pluralism is also shown by the different creation myths the Mela commemorates.

The Urn

kumbha17The word ‘Kumbh’ means an urn, and one of the several myths is the story of an urn filled with the nectar of immortality which emerged from the primeval waters when they were being churned by gods and demons.

The urn was snatched by demons but the son of the ruler of heaven, the god Indira, recovered it. Drops from the urn fell at the Sangam and other places in India where Kumbh Melas are held.

Business

kumbha6Mela means a fair, and as with all fairs plenty of business is done at Kumbh Melas.

There are stalls selling everything a pilgrim might need including, of course, the accoutrements required for pujas, or worship. Barbers shaving heads do a roaring trade. The traditional priests who keep family records set up their stalls and do good business updating genealogies and performing ceremonies for the souls of the dead.

Both Kumbh Melas I saw were remarkable feats of organisation, occasions when the much-maligned Indian civil servants covered themselves with glory.

They constructed a vast tented city, laying down miles of steel plates for roads and constructing pontoon bridges. The administration also insured there was food for the pilgrims, and water too – sanitation, as well as electricity.

kumbha11The police, not usually renowned for their gentleness, were politeness personified as they shepherded millions of pilgrims down to the river banks, keeping them in orderly queues, and insured their safety while bathing. But in this they were helped by Indians remarkable ability to organise themselves in situations which in most other countries would degenerate into chaos.

Faith

Faith is the key to the Kumbh Mela.

It is a wonderful spectacle, a great demonstration of the variety and vigour of Hinduism, an occasion to preach politics and conduct business, but there would be no Kumbh Mela were it not for the faith that draws millions of pilgrims to the Sangam in Allahabad.

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Uploaded on Nov 8, 2007

May 1998
For the last time this century the Indian city of Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas was the setting for the mother of all holy Festivals