Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Update on Worlds Largest Spiritual Festival




Once every 12 years, tens of millions of pilgrims stream to the small northern city of Allahabad from across India for the Maha Kumbh Mela, or Grand Pitcher Festival, at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third, mythical river.
Officials believe that over the next two months as many as 100 million people will pass through the temporary city that covers an area larger than Athens on a wide sandy river bank. That would make it larger even than previous festivals.
After a slow start, police chief Alok Sharma said 1.5 million people had gathered by 8 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Monday, with more on their way.
Two dreadlocked men riding horses emerged from thick camp smoke before dawn, followed by a crowd of ash-smeared and naked holy men, or sadhus, one incongruously wearing a suit jacket. At exactly five minutes past six (0035 GMT), they yelled and dashed dancing into the river.

Click on the link to see gorgeous photos from the religious festival
Millions Plunge Into Ganges as Worlds Largest Religious Festival Begins


More than 2,000 years old, the festival is a meeting point for the Hindu sadhus, some who live in forests or Himalayan caves, and who belong to dozens of inter-related congregations. The sects have their own administration and elect leaders, but are also known for violent clashes with each other.
Some naked, some wrapped in saffron or leopard-print cloth and smoking cannabis pipes, the holy men hold court by fire pits in sprawling camps decorated with colored neon lights, where they are visited by pilgrims who proffer alms and get blessings.

Click here to read more about the festival with lots of photos
Photos and Information From Worlds Largest Religious Festival


Despite their asceticism, the sects, known as akharas, are moving with the times. Swami Avdheshanand Giri Ji, who leads one of the main groups, has a Facebook page. Some gurus advertise on billboards and posters to attract followers, others drive trucks and chat on cellphones.
At the riverbank, men with dreadlocked beards to their feet vied for media attention with yogis supporting heavy weights with their genitals, while others holding golden umbrellas, flags and swords rubbed sand on their bodies after the dip.
"I feel pleasure," grinned Digambar Navraman Giri," who said he had not sat down for a year, even sleeping on foot. "This is why I became a sadhu," he said, steam rising from his body in the cold air and wearing nothing but two rings on his fingers.

The festival attracts global followers too, with a number of foreigners ordained in the hierarchy of sadhus, including Baba Mangalannand, who is also a popular trance music DJ under the name Goa Gil. He first came to the festival in 1971.
To cope with the flow of people, authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh have installed 35,000 toilets, laid 550 km (340 miles) of water pipes and 155 km (95 miles) of temporary roads at the riverbank site.
Mostly, though, the festival's spirit does not change. Pilgrims make their way there without advertising, announcements or buying tickets. The sadhus show off yogic feats, catch up with old friends and discuss scripture, just as they always have.
"The Indian people don't change their attitude to spirituality overnight, we're not like the West," Ram Puri said, laughing. "That's why in India the spirit is strong."

All photos and text from  HuffPost Religion






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