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Sunday January 27, 2013

Into the cleansing waters of the Ganges

Some 100 million spiritual seekers are expected to congregate in Allahabad, India, for the 55-day Maha Kumbh Mela — the biggest human gathering on the planet.

I’M with more than 30 million spiritual seekers at the world’s biggest religious gathering, the Maha Kumbh Mela congregation in Allahabad, India.

This holy assembly, which takes place once in 12 years at the Ganges River, is recorded in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the biggest human meeting on Earth; it can be seen from the moon, and satellites have photographed it.

I’m overjoyed because I have waited for this moment for more than a decade and it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone seeking spiritual fulfillment, realisation, liberation, peace and to speed the way to enlightenment.

In 2007, I participated in and wrote about my half Mela experience which attracted over 10 million people at the same site; but the current grand assembly is different because it is the mother of all spiritual get-togethers.

The millions of seekers here believe that dipping into the holy waters of the Ganges on a full moon day, or on a specific date and time when the planets are auspiciously aligned, will cleanse pilgrims of their sins, help them attain divinity, stop the cycle of rebirth and obtain divine protection.

According to the Hindu faith, souls are reborn after death in a continuous cycle known as karma; nirvana is achieved when one is liberated from this cycle through righteous living and good deeds.

The circumstances of the next life, or even whether or not one achieves nirvana, are determined by one’s actions in the present life.

So acts like going on a pilgrimage to places of spiritual power, such as this sacred confluence of three powerful rivers, can have a profound impact on the next life and determine whether or not cycle of rebirth can be broken.

Research also reveals that the Ganges has been regarded as a site of power from ancient times and people have been visiting it on pilgrimages since then.

Joining me in this sacred journey is my 7th generation Vasthu Sastra Master Yuvaraj Sowma from Chennai, who is guiding me on how to perform the ritual bath and seek blessings.

According to him, no ritual or belief is necessary, and no particular religion need be practised, to tap into the divine power when visiting the site.

Reportedly, all you need to do is place your feet on the riverbank (or any holy site) to experience spiritual transformation and illumination.

The weather here is chilly but the water at the confluence of the three rivers, which is regarded as the centre of the Earth, is mystically warm.

Despite what many would think – that the Ganges is dirty and polluted owing to the millions using it – I found it clear and free from detritus.

Although the crowd here is 30 times bigger than at Batu Caves during Thaipusam, amazingly, I am still enjoying my own space without any push or rush.

Everyone here seems to be in blissful alignment, paying their obeisance to the Ganges in deep respect, silence and complete discipline.

By the time you read this column, I would have taken my bath early today at 3.30am (Sunday, Jan 27), the first auspicious bathing date of the festival which started on Jan 14. The other bathing dates are Feb 6, 10, 15, 17, 18 and 25.

How do I feel after taking my sanctified dip? I believe spiritual connection is private and it can only be experienced, and not written or spoken about.

The 55-day festival is expected to attract more than 100 million people seeking to cleanse sin from their souls by taking a dip where the rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet the mythical underground waterway, Saraswathi.

The highlight of the mammoth event is the rare sight of over 250,000 monks, saints, sages, yogis and sadhus who have left their remote dwelling places in mountains, caves and communes in the Himalayas and all over India to travel to Allahabad to take their ceremonial dip in the river.

These holy men live lives of complete simplicity and they are regarded by devotees as earthly representatives of God because of the extent of their self-sacrifice.

They use pain as a means of transcending reality and attaining spiritual enlightenment; they do things like sit in a circle of burning cow dung, walk on glass, sleep on beds of nails or wrap their sexual organs and stand on one leg for 33 years!

This festival is usually the only time they leave their hidden abodes to appear in public and take their bath and shower their blessings upon those who seek them.

Kumbh Mela has its origins in Hindu mythology, which tells how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four places that host the festival – Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.

The festival’s genesis goes back to a Hindu creation myth when gods and demons fought over a pitcher. At the beginning of creation, all the gods were placed under a curse that made them weak and cowardly. Brahma, the creator god, advised them to retrieve a kumbh (pitcher) containing the nectar of immortality.

The gods sought help from the demons and together, they churned the primordial ocean to bring up the nectar.

When Dhanwantari, the divine healer, appeared with the kumbh containing the nectar in his hands, a great fight over the pitcher ensued between the gods and the demons, which the gods eventually won.

During the fierce battle in the sky, a few drops of nectar fell upon the four locations mentioned above.

Since then, whenever the planets align astrologically, pilgrims and devotees converge to commemorate this divine event which alternates among these four places and takes place every three years within a 12-year cycle that culminates in the grand Maha Kumbh Mela festival.

For those who are unable to join the congregation in India but want to share in the spirit of the day, mark the auspicious dates with special prayers and fasting. When you break your fast, eat a vegetarian meal.

If it is possible to get hold of water from the Ganges from travellers returning from India, sprinkle some on yourself and family members as well as inside and outside the house.

It would also be a good idea to take a dip in the nearest sea or natural water source on these dates. And if you have friends or relatives travelling to this festival in India, ask them to bathe in the Ganges in your name and the names of your family members.

If you can, the best thing to do is travel to Allahabad and not miss this uplifting, once-in-12-years dip in the holy Ganges which ends on March 9.

> T. Selva, chief news editor at The Star, is author of the Vasthu Sastra Guide and is the first disciple of 7th generation Vasthu Sastra master Yuvaraj Sowma from Chennai, India.

Selva provides tips on Vasthu Sastra on RTM’s TRAXX fm at 11.15am on the last Friday of every month. You can follow him on Twitter at @tselvas. This column appears on the last Sunday of every month.

The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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