Feb 27, 2013

Kumbh Mela 3 of 5 - pilgrims’ procession

Pilgrims on the way to the bathing ghats

“Science… has… examined everything heavenly that has been bequeathed to us in sacred books, and, after hard analysis, the learned ones of this world have absolutely nothing left of what was once holy. But they have examined parts and missed the whole, and their blindness is even worthy of wonder. Meanwhile the whole stands before their eyes as immovably as ever,… does it not live even now in the movements of individual souls and in the movements of the popular masses?…”

— Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Kharamozov.

I, myself, can’t stop asking questions like:

“What about all these miracles? Do you think these naga babas can levitate, appear in two places at once, and so on?”

Last night my dinner companion, an Australian about to take a three month course in Tantra yoga, answered:

“Well, since I have levitated spontaneously several times, I don’t see any reason to believe the naga babas can’t do it. Gravitation is based on a circular spiral energy [and she made a clockwise spiral motion with her hand], all you have to do is reverse the spiral [and she made a counter-clockwise motion with the same hand.]” 

Devotees bathing just after the naga babas

My favorite response to this subject of everyday miracles came at the dinner after the events described in the previous post. Someone asked me if I saw the naga baba go to sleep. I answered:

“No, but, he only sleeps two hours a night.”


“Dude, I didn’t sleep at all last night.”

“Try sleeping two hours tonight. No one can live on two hours sleep a night.” 

This guy’s Western rationalist zeal made me feel for a moment wonderfully unlearned and unlike those the Dostoevsky quote criticizes as having ‘missed the whole.’ I’d find it so easy to believe that the deep meditative states called samadhi that naga babas and yogis reach can provide a way for them to cut back on their sleep.

However, last night’s dinner companion went on to explain that samadhi is a progressive departure from the body that leads to the acquisition of siddhi or magical powers such as the ability to disappear or appear in two places at once. I felt, once again, a little left behind.

A pilgrim shows the water he has bottled at the confluence of the three sacred rivers. I met an Austrian couple who took liters of Ganges water home. Back in Austria they have a special cup that lets one drop a minute fall over their Shiva lingua. It is, they say, even without the Ganges drops, an amazingly powerful stone.

After their sacred bath the sadhus reapply ashes from bags they filled up before the procession from last night’s fire.

I arrived at the sadhus camp the night before to avoid the maddening millions. However, to return to the tourist camp I had to fight my way through unbelievable crowds. Thirty-nine people died this day in a stampede at the railway station and there were reports that ten died in stampedes at the Mela. 

Finally, I made it to the last bridge out of the Mela and was able to look back at the multitude.

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