Feb 26, 2013

Kumbh Mela 2 of 5 - Anita’s story

Room with a view #4

I slept (or rather tried to sleep) on February ninth, the night before the main bathing day,  right here in front of Shoee Onkargiri Naga Baba’s tent in Panchayati Akhara besides three Spaniards I’d met at the tourist camp. In this photo taken by Raul, just as we were getting up, you see from left to right  Anita, myself and Sonia. Inches from the front of the covered porch on which we recline devotees decorated the tractor floats for the procession (seen in the first photo).

Here Onkargiri Naga Baba uses a Lonely Planet Hindi/English phrasebook to communicate with the women. 

On the long walk to the sadhu camp Anita, thinking that her spiritual path might lead through Onkargiri Naga Baba’s camp, said to me:

“When he looks at you, you feel he is all love.”

The previous day through a translator Onkargiri had told her:

“You have a power. You are one in one million. I choose you to be my student.”

“No sex, no marriage. You and me connect like Parvati and ???.”

[the Spaniards aren't clear about the word represented by ???, if it is a name for Shiva as the context suggests it may be a reference to the asceticism and temperance that Parvati was famous for before her marriage to Shiva. However, they remember a word sounding more like “Sanka”].

The translator added on his own behalf:

“I’m coming from Bangladesh to be his student. He is famous around the world. People come from all over the world and are turned down.’

The power of Onkargiri’s offer is hard to overestimate. Devotees and pilgrims worship the naga babas almost as if they were gods.

Onkargiri Naga Baba symbolically covers his eyes, nose, mouth and ears in the belief that if you control these and the other 3 openings to the body, your third eye, your connection to God, opens. A sadhu is one who renounces earthly things to achieve moksha or release from the suffering of endless reincarnations. In the west this is usually referred to as self-realization.

Onkargiri looking in Anita’s direction.

Continuing with the translated words of the sadhu to Anita when she was with Sonia and Raul:

 “Next Kumbh Mela [12 years from now] you will be baba and people from everywhere will come to be blessed by you. You will be queen.”

“You will be able to disappear and appear in two places at one time.”

“This is good life. You will have money. You will have freedom after finishing training.”

The Indian woman you see on the other side of the fire pit in the second picture said, “They renounce everything, but after they become babas they are more free.”

It was clear to Sonia, Raul and me that Onkargiri Naga Baba had a crush on Anita. When I had lain down to sleep between Anita and Sonia so that Anita could stay up and talk to Onkargiri, I had to get my iPod out to shut out the sweet awkward lines he was continuing to squeeze out of the Lonely Planet Hindi/English phrase book. I listened instead to Krishna Das sing: 

There are some things I may not know
There are some places, dear Lord, I may not go.
But there’s one thing of which I’m sure
My God is real for I can feel him in my soul

Hare Ram, Ram, Ram, Sita Ram, Ram, Ram, 
Hare Ram, Ram, Ram, Sita Ram, Ram, Ram, [etc.]

— quoting now from, God is Real / Hare Ram, the one chant on my playlist that is partly in English

It’s almost 4 am and a naga baba Onkargiri calls Vikimg (big brother) because he helped make him a sadhu gets some help dressing for the procession to the Sangam. 

The following pictures are from the pre-dawn rally inside the naga baba camp that took place just before the procession began.

Vikimg is connected. He told Anita, Sonia and Raul that he has an iphone, a laptop, a twitter account and 2,000 Facebook followers. He gave Anita a DVD that was made about him.


The final change in Anita’s opinion about Onkargiri and his friends came after the procession. An orange robed assistant to the naga baba asked for Anita’s phone and started typing into it. He held the phone away from her so she couldn’t see what he was doing. (She thinks he tried to call himself to get her phone number, but the phones weren’t working.) When he gave it back she got what she regarded as a sexual touch as he traced his finger down her palm. Anita looked at all the other babas and their assistants and saw them give him a knowing smile—they were all OK with it.

Anita concludes:

“I thought I was living with gods, now I think the gods are devils.”

The last thing Onkargiri said to Anita when she made it clear she was leaving:

“You give me some money.”

At the tourist camp where I spent most nights, the one westerner I met who was also here 12 years ago for the last Kumbh Mela, put it this way: “If you’re looking for spirituality, look to the pilgrims.”

Most of tomorrow’s post on the procession to the Sangam turns away from the sadhus to just do that.

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