History made by Westerners at the Kumbha Mela 2013
The Kumbha Mela 2013, the world’s largest human gathering of all times, ended one week ago. Besides new record numbers, also qualitative historic changes occurred that went largely unnoticed. They bring a new dimension to the story and history of the Kumbha Mela: one of religious tolerance and acceptance and about finally putting differences aside.
For the very first time in the history of the Kumbha Mela
- a western group - known as the Bhakti Marga movement – could bathe with the Naga Babas and Sadhus
- a joint chariot and a bath by both a Shaivite and a Vaishnavite group took place on the major sacred bathing day
- the so called “untouchables”, the lowest of the lowest group of society within the Hindu caste system, were allowed to take a bath in the Holy Rivers
The Kumbha Mela1 which takes place every 12 years in Allahabad, India, ended one week ago. It is an ancient and grand spiritual festival, full of history and tradition. The Kumbha Mela of 2013 happened to also be a Maha Kumbha Mela, as it comes round only once every 144 years (12 times 12), and it is thus considered to be particularly auspicious. As the international press already pointed out, it turned out to be the world's largest human gathering of all times.
Besides historically high numbers of pilgrims – 120 million in total and over 30 million on the main bathing day - there were also unexpected qualitative historic changes that went largely unnoticed. They merit to be highlighted, as they are significant and bring a new dimension to the story and history of the Kumbha Mela: a message about religious tolerance and acceptance and about putting differences aside. They constitute a very powerful message in a country that historically has shown a lot of religious tolerance towards others.
Specifically:1. A group of 50 disciples of spiritual master Sri Swami Vishwananda2 – known as the Bhakti Marga movement - became the first outside Westerners in the known history of the Kumbha Mela to bathe with the Naga Babas and Sadhus of the so-called Akharas during Mauni Amavasya3, the main and most auspicious bathing day (snan) on 10th of February 2013 in Allahabad. Over 30 million devotees and ascetics took the holy dip, probably the largest human gathering on a single day.
The Bhakti Marga group based in Germany, comprised of mostly white westerners, and both men and women. During major bathing dates, the Akharas always have a separate bathing area from the general public. For western non-Akhara initiates, and both white men and women to be bathing with the sadhus, has never been recorded before.
The nationalities of the international group include Germany, Russia, France, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, UK, Latvia, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, Serbia, USA, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius, Nepal and India
The co-operation and openness of the Niranjani Akhara4 to allow Sri Swami Vishwananda and his Bhakti Marga devotees to bathe with them on Mauni Amavasya represents a historical moment in the history of the Kumbh Mela.
Mahamandaleshwara Swami Chitprakashanand Giriji Maharaj was interviewed by the BBC for a documentary about the Maha Kumbh Mela soon after Mauni Amavasya. When asked why he had allowed Sri Swami Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga to join their procession, his response was “If someone is taking an interest in our culture, it is our duty to help them go forwards. There should not be any difference between the Vaishnavite and Shaivite paramparas (lineage) – we are all going towards the same Paramatma. Although there may be differences in the Kriyas (yoga techniques) and the teachings, the essence in general remains the same. The Vedas say that there is only one truth, but there are different ways to attain that truth. It is by God’s will that this is happening. It has been a proud moment for the Niranjani Akhara that another parampara has been able to join us.”3. Throughout India’s history, for as long as can be recalled, the so called “untouchables”, the lowest of the lowest group of society within the Hindu caste system lived on the periphery of society. They handled what were seen as unpleasant or polluting jobs and suffered from social segregation and restrictions, in addition to being poor generally. They were not allowed to worship in temples with others, nor draw water from the same wells as others. Persons of other castes would not interact with them.
For the very first time in the history of the Kumbha Mela the “untouchables”, were allowed to take a bath in the Holy Rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.
Sri Swami Vishwananda: “It has never happened before. In India there is a group of people who clean the sewage with their own hands. They are considered very low caste people, within the lowest caste they are the lowest. They have never been allowed to participate in the Kumbha Mela, not even to approach the Ganges, and this year, after thousands and thousands of years, from the beginning of the Kumbha Mela, this is the first time ever, that they were allowed to take the bath in the Ganges. So, as you can see, there are lots of profound changes taking place. Nobody knows why they are happening now. It is a Divine arrangement.”
On the 15th February 2013, the second most auspicious bathing date of the Kumbha Mela of 2013, on Basant Panchami day, Sri Swami Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga were invited to join the chariot procession and snan with Sri Maha Mandaleshwar Mahant Santosh Das, from a Vaishnavite Akhara.
Sri Swami Vishwananda (third from the right) and his group of disciples marching in the middle of the night towards the designated spot for the historic holy bath on 10 February 2013.
One of Sri Swami Vishwananda’s western devotees in front of the chariot of the Niranjani Akhara of Mahamandaleshwara Swami Chitprakashanand Giriji Maharaj, in the early morning hours of the historic 10 Februar 2013.
Mahamandaleshwara Swami Chitprakashanand Giriji Maharaj (left) and Sri Swami Vishwananda (middle).
Sri Swami Vishwananda (second from the left) and Mahamandaleshwara Swami Chitprakashanand Giriji Maharaj (third from the left). (Image: Bhakti Marga)
Devotees of Sri Swami Vishwananda taking the holy bath. In the upper picture on the left is David Johnstone, whose personal experience is being covered by the BBC documentary which will appear in May 2013.
In the lower image, devotees in jubilation just after taking the holy bath.
Sri Swami Vishwananda (left) on the chariot of Sri Maha Mandaleshwar Mahant Santosh Das (right) on Basant Panchami day (15th February 2013), the second most auspicious bathing date of the Kumbha Mela of 2013.
Devotees of Sri Swami Vishwananda in a jubilant mood on Basant Panchami day (15th February 2013), shortly before taking the Holy bath.
Sri Swami Vishwananda on the chariot of Sri Maha Mandaleshwar Mahant Santosh Das (in front, western devotees).
A female devotee of Sri Swami Vishwananda making a tilak on a Sadhu during dinner time at the camp of the Niranjani Akhara, at the request of Mahamandaleshwara Swami Chitprakashanand Giriji Maharaj. It is highly unusual in India for a woman to touch a Sadhu, let a alone to paint a tilak on the forehead. Yet another example of going beyond the borders of tradition established over millennia.
1 Sri Swami Vishwananda is a living Master, an embodiment of Bhakti and Love. He originates from Mauritius and resides at Shree Peetha Nilaya, Bhakti Marga International Center, in Germany near Frankfurt. His movement is called Bhakti Marga.
2 Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad. This event is the world's largest religious gathering, with over a 120 million people attending the event in 2013. The Kumbh Mela is held every third year at one of the four locations - Haridwar, Allahabad, Nasik and Ujjain.
3 Mauni Amavasya is a special new moon day which this year happened on the 10th February 2013. This day there was the largest human gathering on a single day. It is estimated that over 30 million devotees and ascetics took a holy dip on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya.
4 Niranjani Akhara is one of the 13 Akharas in India. The Akharas are the different sects of Sadhus that have bathing privileges during the most important bathing days at the Kumbh Mela.
5 Mahamandaleshwar is a title used by some Hindu monks of the Dashanami order of Swamis founded by Adi Shankaracharya 1200 years ago. A person called a Mahamandaleshwar has been elevated to the highest level of traditional, Hindu spiritual guardianship. Today India has 80 Mahamandaleshwars.
Devotees of Sri Swami Vishwananda handing out food to Sadhus at the camp of the Niranjani Akhara.
To learn more about Sri Swami Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga and to request film and photographic footage of the historical moments of the Kumbha Mela 2013, please contact:
Swami Kuru, Bhakti Marga Media Relations
Address: SHREE PEETHA NILAYA Bhakti Marga Centre Springen
Am Geisberg 1-8,
65321 Heidenrod – Springen, Germany
Phone number: +49 178 320 48 01 (mobile) +49 6124 605 91 01 (landline)