The term ‘Kumbh Mela’, nostalgically reminds me of all those Hindi movies where children separated in the ‘Kumbh’ only to be reunited years later, and hence I burst in giggles when my parents inquired if I wanted to see the ‘Kumbh’ at Ujjain with them last month.
A succor for travel, the travel bug in me couldn’t pass this fantastic opportunity. Notwithstanding 40C+ temperatures, we set out daily to tour the many grand ‘akhadas’ (pandals) where swamis and sadhvis along with their disciples from all across the country and the world have congregated for this month-long religious communion called ‘Simhasth 2016’ on the banks of the Shipra river at Ujjain.
What made the trip more memorable was being in the company of the religious head of our Mahdi Bagh community, His Holiness Sydena and Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb who was especially invited by Swami Avdheshanand Giri (head or mandaleshwar of the Juna Akhada and the Chief Head of the Simhasth) to inaugurate the nine-day ‘Ram Katha’ discourse by Murari Bapu.
Every akhada where Moulana Amiruddin Malak Saheb visited, He was accorded the utmost respect and was immediately invited for a personal audience with the swami. It was indeed a ‘divine’ example of tolerance and communal harmony. As we, about 100 of us accompanied Him, we were also made equally welcomed and got invited to partake in their ‘bhandara’ (prasad) which comprised of basic but extremely hygienic and tasty vegetarian food.
We were the cynosure of all, when we hired about 25 e-rickshaws one evening and moved in a kind of convoy touring the many akhadas (some big, some small). Many motorists and bystanders curiously kept looking at the lot of us as we passed by babas with fancy titles like ‘Environement baba’, ‘Pilot baba’, the tantriks, the aghoris (they engage in post-mortem rituals), the kinners(transgenders) and the naga babas. There were some babas that have been standing on one leg for many years or some with one arm in the air.
We also walked around the many ‘ghats’. ‘Ram Ghat’ on the Shipra River is where the ‘shahi snaan’ takes place on the first day of the Simhasth and is considered the most holy. To divert the devout and the many crowds of curious tourists and onlookers, many such ‘ghats’ are made along the river, so all can take a dip in the river. Temporary bridges are made connecting the banks of this wide river to facilitate quick movement of people. Strategically made fountains in the middle of the river and water spraying from the bridge, created a kind of a mist, keeping the place cool, despite the bright sun and high temperatures during the day. At night, the whole river was brightly lit up with colorful lights adding to the festive atmosphere.
In the four days of my trip to Ujjain this time, I can honestly say, that this unique experience is going to last with me for a life time. As a tourist at this grand event, to see the magnanimity of it and the bhakti of people from all walks of life- it is definitely to be seen to be felt. Religious harmony in India indicates there is love and affection between different religions in India and these past few days symbolized the best example of living in harmony in our pluralistic country.
The Kumbh Mela is held in Ujjain once every twelve years when Jupiter “enters” Leo, or simha. Hence, the Ujjain mela is known as the Simhasth Kumbh Mela and is being held from 22nd April to 6th May, 2016 this time.
Apart from this current significance, the city itself has a large population of people from all religious communities living in harmony. The narrow by-lanes of the city are famous for its old architecture with intricately carved doorways and windows.
There is also a huge bangles market. A wide array of food, both sumptuous vegetarian and non-vegetarian are widely available. The sight of the big ‘kadahi’ with gulab jamus simmering away is a sight for a connoisseur.
Indore is the closest airport about 55 kms from Ujjain and is connected by flights from major cities. There is also a railway station at Ujjain.
-Tamanna S. Mehdi