March 15, 2010
“To see is to believe” goes an old saying. My excitement and joy knew no bounds when I came to know I will be visiting holy city Haridwar during the Holy Kumbh Mela to be a part of the National Security Convention held on March 9 & 10 this year, along with some other journalist friends. I could not have dreamt of a better occasion to visit the holy city Haridwar, see the holy river Ganga flowing in all its majesty and get caught up in the milieu of pure devotion and rituals, which are a part and parcel of Indian ethos, culture and civilization. The very idea of being a part of the single largest centuries old congregation of civil society at Kumbh Mela attended by a sea of people from all over the country and abroad, gave me goose bumps and joy- de- verve.
The moment we landed up in the holy city one fine morning there was a feeling of holiness permeating the atmosphere that added to our ecstasy! Apart from that feeling of piousness it was the camaraderie that I shared with the like minded people in our group that made it a truly memorable visit, an experience for eternity. The first thing that attracts the attention on the dusty roads of Haridwar are the huge hoardings and posters of god men, sadhus, swamis, politicians, ministers etc., welcoming people to the Dev Bhoomi (holy land), myriad brightly lit ashrams, saffron clad bare feet sadhus with flowing bears in groups on a jatha towards the holi river for an auspicious dip in the sacred river and a surge of people who have arrived in the holy city from all corners of the country to partake in the Maha Kumbh.
The origin of the Kumbh is believed to be very old and dates back to the time when Kalasha (pot of nectar of immortality) was recovered from Samudramanthan (during the churning of the primordial sea), for which an intense war between Devtas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) ensued. To prevent the Amrita Kalasha from being forcibly taken into possession by Asuras, who were powerful than Devtas, its safety was entrusted to the Devtas Brahaspati, Surya, Chandra and Shani. The four Devtas ran away with the Amrita Kalasha to hide it from the Asuras. Learning the conspiracy of Devtas, Asuras turned ferocious and chased the 4 Devtas running with Amrita Kalasha. The chase, lasted 12 days and nights during which the Devtas and Asuras went round the earth and during this chase, Devtas put Amrita Kalasha at Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik.
The holy city of Haridwar is the place where holy river Ganga leaves the mountains to join the plains. It is the home of some of the most sacred rituals is known for its Maha Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh fairs that are held to mark 12 years of solar cycle. Though devotees come here round the year celebrations are in full swing over a period of three months that begins with Makara Sankranthi in January and culminates with Sukh Purnima Snan, the last of the 10 ritualistic snans (baths) to coincide with the auspicious days of celestial significance in April this year. Millions of devotees and visitors flock to the city to take a dip in the holiest of Hindu rivers to attain salvation.
River Ganga, the holiest of all the rivers in India is held in high reverence by the Hindus as Indian civilization and culture in indubitably associated with this perennial river. According to Hindu mythology Haridwar (in Uttarakand) is one of the seven holiest places in India as the gods are believed to have left their footprints here and it has been a major pilgrimage centre for the Hindus. The common belief is that a holy dip in the sacred rivers during the Maha Kumbh or Ardh Kumbh takes human out of the circle of life and death by cleansing the body and the soul.
The National Security Convention held at Prem Nagar Ashram, the Ashram of Saptaji Maharaj was milling with people who had arrived from different corners of the country to deliberate on various issues concerning the security of the nation. The convention was organized by Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) and Chief Minister of Uttarkand graced the occasion with his presence. Experts and eminent people deliberated on the issue concerning the security of the nation. As the deliberations of the day came to end we headed straight towards Har Ki Pauri one of the many bathing ghats at Haridwar, with all the required accessories (clothes) to take a holy dip and witness the saga of Mmaha Kumbh.
For a moment one is enchanted by the scene of “Aarti”, performed by devotees in all the havelis, temples and shrines on the river bank. It is a truly engrossing scene to witness hundreds of devotees offering “aarti” in leaf plates filled with flowers with burning wick lamps amidst chanting of mantras which then float down the river. The entire atmosphere is captivating and one cannot hold on to the temptation of offering an “aarti” and very soon we all yielded to the temptation and the hundreds of floating diyas in the river just when darkness had descended was indeed a wonderful sight. A holy dip on the sacred river and a pooja at a nearby shrine completed the ritual for the day and our group comprising Hindu, Christian and Muslim was indeed a good example of national integration.
The pious euphoria continued the next day as our group was once again ready to have a morning dip in the holy river braving the ice cold water of the Ganga and we joined the milling crowd men and women, young and old, strong and the frail, sadhus and hermits who had assembled on the banks of the river for a holy dip to attain salvation, transcending the barriers of caste, creed, race and religion. It was nothing but faith at work that gave the believers the inner contentment they came in search for. Satisfaction was writ large on the face of Savithri from our group who remarked “it is indeed a long cherished dream come true to take a dip in the holy river during the Maha Kumbh Mela. It is an altogether different experience and I will treasure this experience for ever”.
The second day’s deliberations at the convention were truly engrossing and the presence of Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal, Sri Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Najma Hepthulla, Uttarkand Chief Minister Dr Ramesh Pokriyal, RSS Mohan Bhagath, Sudarshan and others electrifying the assembled gathering of delegates numbering nearly 2000. Najma Hepthulla created a sensation when she hastened to add in her speech “I can’t wait until I have a dip in the holy Ganges”.
Majority of the delegates at the convention consisted of defense personnel some of whom shared their experiences and finally the convention ended by adopting a few resolutions concerning the security of the country and most of the deliberations were conducted with military like precision. The delegates was a mixture of intellectuals, subject experts, retired military officers, judges, lawyers and communicators, professionals, security experts, educationists etc,.
With our tight schedule we could not go to other holy places like Kedarnath or Rishikesh which were only a few kms away from Haridwar. But truly there are no regrets. That I witnessed the 5000 old culture of India in its full glory and majesty in itself is an unforgettable experience. And what I carried back from my journey is nothing but the good memories of Haridwar and of the comradeship our group enjoyed. Prof Venugopal, Principal and Dean of University Visvesvarayya College of Engineering, Bangalore, proved to be the guiding force for our group and our journalistic friends added to the feeling of the bonhomie.
Way back from the 4 days of togetherness we forgot the hardships we faced of missing the connecting train from Delhi to Haridwar following our late arrival and the adversity of the road journey we had to undertake throughout the night on our way to Haridwar to attend the convention, keeping awake in turn to give company to the driver and associated troubles. All was forgotten. Now only the fond memories remain. I must thank my journalist friend Ravi Prakash, who was also part of the group, for this treasured experience of a life time.