I received an invitation from a saint and rare embodiment of the divine mother, Shri Maa Satigiri. She invited me to join her in Haridwar during the Peshwai, Kumbh Mela’s royal procession. My first Peshwai visit, and I was delighted about this privilege and rare opportunity to experience it alongside an insider. I had no idea what surprise I was in for though.
I thought we would meet, walk together with her devotees to a designated location on the banks of Ganga and take an auspicious dip in the river. Little did I know, that I would sit on a spectacular carriage and be part of a flamboyant public street parade…
Shri Maa and I had planned to meet the evening before the Peshwai, but for some reason we kept missing each other, on the phone as well as in person. I decided to let go, move on and try to check in at the hotel where I stayed a couple of weeks earlier during Mauna Amavasiya.
A room was available. Though already close to midnight, nobody had information about the exact timing and route of the Peshwai procession the following morning. None of Shri Maa‘s ashram team, none of the hotel staff and none of the msm channels. Ok, no problem, I was sure to find out more in the morning, and went to bed.
I woke up at 5:00 am, still dark outside. I knew I had to go to the Niranjani Akhada, to their ashram on the other side of Ganga, almost opposite the hotel.
First, I visited their Hanuman temple. I lit a small ghee lamp, received prasaad and had a chat with the priest. He was free as the only other visitors had just left.
I walked towards the lush green front courtyard. Here, one elderly swami was meditating under a big tree, a couple of other residents had a conversation, and one younger monk began talking to me. Within seconds I had all important information about the Peshwai’s kickoff. The procession would start at 11am from Jain College.
On my way back to the hotel, I visited a Nagha Sadhu. He was busy with his rituals and morning aarti, yet invited me into his temple cave. We sat down around the havan kundh and began talking. He in broken English and me in broken Hindi. He confirmed the event coordinates, provided me with more prasad, and his blessing – applying a tilaka mark on my forehead, with the first layer bhasma (holy ash), second layer kumkum (vermillion). I felt well prepared…
The sun rose above a perfectly cloudless sky. The entire cityscape had a delicious peach golden hue and I enjoyed my walk on the promenade along Ganga immensely.
Around 7:30am, I was back in my room. Happy with my morning excursion, I had a little rest to jot down some thoughts. And order breakfast.
Shri Maa spent years in seclusion in the Himalayas before she began her work to inspire those on the quest for truth and self-realisation. Her charity got established 2010 in Haridwar and during the 2013 Mahakumbh, Maa was awarded the monastic post of Mahamandaleshwar. Her full title is Shri Shri 1008 Mahamandaleshwar Adishakti Satigiri Ji Maharaj. And while Maa welcomes people to discover the path of the mystics, called Sant Mat, she also belongs to the Naranjani Akhada.
Akhada (or Akhara) are groups of monks and saints, and there exist around 10 main organisations. The Niranjani Akhara, founded 904 AD, is the second largest group (after the Juna Akhada). It worships Kartikeya, son of Shiva and Parvati.
That Shri Maa and I found each other eventually on the Peshwai meeting ground is nothing short of a miracle. Though she called me when I was on my way to the university campus, once I reached the place it was impossible to have any further success in communicating our respective locations.
I was in a sea of thousands of people, visitors as well as musicians, dancers, acrobats, martial artists, saints, saddhus, priests, local residents, police, army, all sorts of tents, vehicles, every now and then elephants, giraffes or horses, countless flowers garlands, flags, trishuls and umbrellas (kodai). Where is Maa? Where is the college building? Where is the beginning of the procession?
The sheer noise of drums, horns, bells, music and shouting made all speaking attempts obsolete. I managed to find what seemed to me the main outer entrance gate, chose a spot on the side of the road and send an sms to Maa. And then I let go.
Oh my goddess, was this real, did I really just arrive here? Never would I have expected such a massive, intense and colourful festival. The Pershwai is clearly not just a spiritual ceremony. It is a grand dazzling show. Bright, loud, pompous.
The Peshwai marks the the official arrival of the members of an akhada at the Kumbh Mela, and the parade typically leads them to their camps, where they reside until the Mela is over.
Fascinated by all that was moving in front of me, my attention turned to two ladies who walked towards me. Both were wearing face masks. I looked at one of them. She looked at me, stopped and said my name. I smiled.”Yes! Maa, it’s you!” She nodded and indicated to follow her closely.
Determined like generals we marched through the crowd, across the campus towards… the carriages. Carriages? Yes, carriages!
I had somewhat envisioned a humble walk. But here we were, about to ascend into a chariot which was assigned to Shri Maa and her devotees. Richly decorated with flowers and marigold garlands, guarded by golden lion statures and equipped with comfortable padded seats. Cute cosmic joke!
With a helicopter releasing tons of pink rose petals above us, we started together with coaches and mobile stages of other saints and sadhus. The convoy went through town for several hours (I left after 3 hours), and we were greeting thousands of people who watched the royal parade from roadsides, balconies and rooftops.
What an interesting and intense experience. Full of love and laughter. Visitors of the parade were excited, took photos and selfies. With the scorching sun reaching its zenith, they cheered us up, threw flower petals, chanted, offered garlands, fresh fruit and juices. Some found courage to climb up onto our carriage, and one mother even handed over her newborn to get Maa’s blessing.
Though I do not support any groups or gurus anymore, and also public parades are not at all my thing, I appreciate that this traditional procession is a powerful frame for the Kumbh Mela.
For me the Kumbh Mela is a symbol for the many paths to truth, the transmission of high energies as well as the sharing of wisdom and knowledge. It is an event that reminds people of their soul and spirit, their orginal and joyful connection with the divine.
Heartfelt gratitude for the privileged seat next to delightful Shri Maa Adishakti (thanks, Ushaji, for mediating). And thanks for support from upstairs for optimal flow all day long. Short video (3,5 mins) summarising my experience:
All photos copyright © Marina 2021. No utilisation without my written permission.