Visiting the Kumbh Mela this time, during Maha Shivaratri, was a historical experience for me. I had the opportunity to participate in the First Royal Bath (Shahi Snan). An important sacred ceremony that traditionally allows only the saints and saddhus of the Akhadas (monastic academies for renunciates). I was privileged to join as guest of Shri Maa Satigiri, Mahamandaleshwar of the Niranjani Akhada. And what an exhilarating event it was!
At 5 am I could hear and see from my hotelroom how the city had already woken up. Melodious morning mantras and temple bells echoed from all directions, and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were flocking to the central banks of Ganga.
I went for an early morning walk and was amazed by the sheer amount of people on the move, or already in the middle of their Snan (dip in the holy river Ganga). Locals and pilgrims, yogis and sadhus, affluent and aescetics, old and young, children as well as dogs!
I had my Ganga bath around 7 am. When I returned to the hotel, a German friend and resident of India like me, was about to leave for her dip. We would meet again later, for breakfast in the hotel garden.
Around 10 am I reached the grounds of the Niranjani Akhada. With more than 1500 people out and about, getting ready for the procession to the legendary Har Ki Pauri ghat, most prominent were the almost naked ash-covered Naga Sadhus. While the saffron clad Sannyasi appear very similar at first sight, upon closer look, the differences are notable. The nuances lie in the type of textile, type of Mala, amount of Malas as well as head cover or hair style – not to forget the type of mobile phone.
Visually an extraordinary and colourful sight. Energetically immensely charged and mightily buzzing.
Though it seemed challenging to find Shri Maa in the crowd, somehow, like last time, she was suddenly standing in front of me.
Beautifully decorated carriages were parked everywhere. The one for her and our group was covered in marigold garlands. It had a throne framed by golden columns and golden horse statures mounted in front of the tractor which pulled our chariot.
Helicopters released tons of rose petals from the skies onto our convoy. With police and army securing the roads, we passed masses of people who watched the parade. They greeted us enthusiastically from walkways, rooftops, windows, balconies. Many gifted us candies and toffees, boxes of Indian sweets, juice packs and water bottles. There was so much love in the air! Impossible to find words to describe it.
Reaching Har Ki Pauri, a police officer run towards our carriage. He asked us to step off the carriage (barefoot) and quickly walk towards the main ghat. Upon entering the area, someone threw big rudrakhsa pearls towards us as blessing. Each one of us caught one.
The stairs were already packed with Sadhus and I followed Shri Maa who was moving with determination. Once we arrived at the bottom of the ghat terrasse, right on the edge of Ganga, I realised how many Sadhus were now behind us, just waiting to rush into the waters. Looking back up the huge staircase that we had just climbed down, it dawned on me, that I was indeed in the first row here but that I was likely to get run over by the many hundreds of naked, ash-covered Naga Babas. We were standing closely next to each other and I could already feel their weight and push. And in my mind, I saw us drowning and getting swept away in the river stream.
A tight feeling crept in at this point and I began to check my options. I still had a little bit of time to move away. I thought. About 15 meters behind me up the stairs, was a small temple structure. I could go there, hold on to it and wait til the Snan is over. So I turned my body away from the river, ready to thrust myself through the Sadhus to reach that safe spot. I took one small step and searched for space to continue my walk. But when I looked down in front of me, all I saw were countless naked ash-smeared bellies, and penises!
I’m not prude but this was a vista on the intimidating side – and I could not imagine myself sqeezing along all those bodies. I understood. It was too late to leave.
I turned again towards the river and Shri Maa. The type of fear I felt in those moments is hard to describe. It was not panic, and there were no emotions. Rather shock. And it was a shock of my body rather than my mind. A sense of having landed in a dead end road. Literally. Shri Maa pulled me closer and I held the hand of one of her students, an Australian lady.
All I could do is accept the situation, my tense body and potential physical end. Interestingly, I did not review my life, neither did I think of my family, my husband, mother or friends. I just contemplated that Ganga is a good place to leave the body.
I focused on my breath and spine, and shifted into a state of acceptance and surrender. And this total detachment catapulted me into a powerful present moment zeropoint field. A magnificient calm and sense of expansion got ignited.
And then we got the go ahead. Everybody rushed and jumped into the river basin, shouting and cheering. We women held each other tight by the arms, and moved slowly step by step, as if in a different timeline, while everyone else was in a hurry. But, luckily, they passed us. We were safe. And where I suspected Ganga to be deep, we could comfortably walk and stand with the waterlevel not higher than our ribcages.
A wave of euphoria came over me. My body relaxed and I was able to fully enjoy the bath.
All of us were deeply touched by this holy event. But we had loads of fun too. Tears and laughter. We took our dips, splashed water around and hugged each other. I felt indescribable joy and gratitude.
At some point vast silence and timelessness enveloped me. Despite all the external upheaval. Looking at the saints, saddhus, our small group with Shri Maa, the flags and trishul, the ghats, bridges and temple towers, the journalists, photographers, other visitors, the birds, the sky and sun, I perceived infinite eternal stillness in me and it infused the entire scene.
This meditative, trance-like state, combined with a high frequency buzz in my cells, continued all day. It is present even now while I‘m writing.
More than 2.2 million people (22 lakh) attended the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar that day, for the first Shahi Snan (Royal Bath) held on the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri (major festival to honour Shiva), 11. March 2021.
This is significant. Because it created a powerful and potent energy vortex. Amazing India! Where else on the planet do you find in one location so many people who are not only aware of the possibility of liberation but who also keen on attaining it? And who gather with respect for ancient knowledge, traditions and cosmological dynamics.
Ancient seers identified powerspots on the planet where there are supportive influences. Many locations happen to be mountains and waterbodies such as confluences of rivers. This is no coincidence as water plays an important role as conductor of information, and as neutraliser. The Kumbh makes use of the power of the sacred rivers of India. Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar is also a special place. I was shown that during the Royal Snan, it is a healing pond and cosmic womb…
While the Kumbh Mela is in sync with the cycles of nature, it also invites us to transcend the boundaries of time and space. Especially an occasion such as Mahashivaratri can remind us of one of Shiva‘s facets, namely the conquering of time, and death.
I would describe my experience as alchemy. Annihilation, and rebirth. And it comes with a tremendous energy boost. At this point, the Kumb Mela feels like a process. Each one of my visits since January was particular and they mutually reinforce each other, build upon each other.
The actual festival is not for the faint-hearted. It is intense, raw and powerful, but also extremely beautiful and nourishing. Everybody will have their own transformational experience and elevation. Of course, there are also the cultists, crooked and corrupt. Since time immemorial, the overall atmosphere is of positive aspirations though.
„I find that somehow, by shifting the focus of attention, I become the very thing I look at, and experience the kind of consciousness it has; I become the inner witness of the thing. I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness, love; you may give it any name you like. Love says “I am everything”. Wisdom says “I am nothing”. Between the two, my life flows. Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both.“
Or Akhara, is the Sanskrit term for a monastic academy-like place for renunciates who share a common lineage (parampara) and philosophy (sampradaya). It has facilities for accommodation and training, both in the context of Indian martial arts (Astradhari) as well as scripture studies (Shastradhari). The three major Akhadas are Juna, Niranjani and Mahanirvani, plus various subsidiary Akhadas. The Naga Sadhus and the various Akhara traditionally meet at the Kumbh Mela. They lead the bathing rituals before the general population steps in. The Akhil Bharatiya Akhada Parishad (ABAP) is an umbrella organisation for all Akhadas.
Maha Shivratri is the biggest day of Shiva, who is also called Mahadev, the great god or supreme being. According to one legend in the Shaivism tradition, this is the night when Shiva performs as Nataraj (King of Dance / Drama) the cosmic dance of creation, preservation and destruction. The purpose of his dance is to release the souls of all humans from the snares of illusion. Another legend states that this is the night when Shiva got married to goddess Parvati.
Shiva & Ganga
God Shiva played a pivotal role when Ganga came to Earth. According to ancient insights, Ganga is no ordinary river. She is a goddess who descended from heaven to help humankind attain Moksha (salvation). To contain her enormous force that would have caused massive destruction, Shiva held her in his matted hair, to eventually release her so she could serve her purpose. Therefore, Shiva and Ganga have a special relationship. A Ganga dip or Shahi Snan on Maha Shivratri pleases Shiva. And devotees who take a purifying bath that day seek his blessings.
The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar (Uttarakhand, Northern India) is held every 12 years. The exact date is determined according to Vedic astrology, when Jupiter is in Aquarius and the sun enters Aries. This tends to match also the Solar Cycle which takes 11-12 years. In this cycle the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips, leading to the so called solar minimum (when the Sun has the least sunspots). Over time, solar activity—and the number of sunspots—increases. The middle of the solar cycle is the solar maximum, or when the Sun has the most sunspots.As the cycle ends, it fades back to the solar minimum and then a new cycle begins.
Kumbh Mela 2021
The Kumbh Mela in Haridwar started in January this year and will close at the end of April 2021. The event has deep spiritual significance not only to those who follow Hindu Sanatana Dharma but every seeker of truth. There will be 3 more Shahi Snans (Royal Baths), on the 12., 14. and 27. April. Other important Snans are on the 28. March, 13., and 21. April as well as 11. and 26. May.
All photos copyright © Marina 2021. No utilisation without my written permission.