by Alka Pande
Politics-religion tango at Maha Kumbh
When there’s a crowd, can politics be far behind? If it’s more a question than a statement of fact then it should not be asked in the first place. The answer is so obvious. The political high point in the grand religious meet this time so far has been the stamp of approval for Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambition from the great extended Hindutva joint family, led by the VHP.
However, the BJP and the 'family’ were not the only ones turning the Maha Kumbh into a political threatre. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are out there in full force too. The SP has been particularly visible through its glossy six-fold folders extolling the achievements – existent and non-existent - of the Akhilesh Yadav government.
Each folder, according to reliable sources, cost around Rs six and the government has printed around 2,00,000 for distribution at the congregation. And there are leaders jostling to be seen in the august company of sants. Well, who said religion and politics do not mix?
Nagas in a crisis
What’s Maha Kumbh without the Naga sadhus in their naked glory? The sadhus, who belong to ten akharas (collectively called dashnamis), have not disappointed curious visitors at Allahabad. However, behind the boisterousness and exuberance of the Naga sadhus there’s a lurking fear: their numbers are dwindling.
Not many new sadhus are joining akharas and there is rampant poaching of sadhus – called murtis - by rival akharas. Numbers are a symbol of status but sadly for many akharas, they cannot muster enough. Some blame it on the spread of materialism in the society and decline in spiritual tendencies. Whatever the case, at Allahabad many suspect that there are bogus sadhus around, paid to be part of the camps.
“How can a murti carry an erection during a procession? There are many such people this time round” said a worried sadhu. He added that Naga sadhus are trained to be in control of their passion and it’s a rigorous training to tame the urges of the mind and the body. Yes, there’s a crisis. I have no idea who could help.
A city that comes to life once in 12 years
Sprawled over a 45-square km area, the Kumbh City comes to life only once in 12 years. In normal times, this area in Allahabad district, is sparsely populated. Since there’s no population, there is no basic facility here. There’s no water supply, no sanitation facility, no electricity and no trade.
But come Maha Kumbh, how the city changes! Here is what the city possesses now - 18 pontoon bridges, a 100-bed central hospital, 240 twenty-bed regional and infectious diseases hospitals, 46,000 toilets of different standards, 4,000 urinals, 770-km long temporary power lines, 50 transformers, 50 generator sets, three additional power stations of 132 KV, 155-km checker plate road, 125 fair price shops, 150 milk sale centres, 40 fire tanks, 20,000 potable water pump facility.
That’s huge and we are not done yet. Here’s an interesting nugget: Allahabad Waste Processing Ltd (AWP), which produces organic manure, has been producing 45 tonnes of manure every day ever since the Maha Kumbh started. That’s many times its normal production. What are we driving at? Let’s keep it simple: there’s too much shit out there.
Punya, business and all that
Kumbh Mela is a serious affair. After all, it’s about sants, sadhus and spiritual leaders, who can never be frivolous. However, it’s about business opportunities too. The 55-day affair has lured many to abandon their routine work – temporarily though – and look for the moolah here.
Flexibility is the key to business here. Sunil Kumar, a 'deed writer’ in Rampur district, sells steaming hot tea to pilgrims here. Balram uses his four trucks to transport household luggage. He has brought one to pick up garbage from the Mela site. Shivkumar Yadav and Rakesh Yadav have small land holdings and are into farming.
Now they are supervising the sanitary store in the Mela. Not many are making roaring business, but they think whatever they are doing is 'noble deed’. They want to serve ‘serve the mother Ganges and earn some goodwill’. It’s the punya they are after and they believe their contribution here, in whatever small way, will earn them punya. Maha Kumbh offers great opportunity and and no one wants to miss it.
For men’s eyes only
Long ago, women were forbidden the view of Naga sadhus at the bathing ghats. The sadhus themselves hated it. History confirms that during 1954 Kumbh, the sight of a woman infuriated the Nagas so much that one of them took out his spear and poked an elephant, which was part of the procession.
The elephant jumped in pain and ran about. This caused a stampede and thousands were killed. Over time, the Naga sadhus have evolved and shed their inhibition. On Mauni Amavasy day, they not only danced and jumped in joy they also posed for lens women.
In fact, their childlike enthusiasm won the heart of all the shutterbugs. However, the UP cops do not seem to have grown up. When Nagas came for bath, they pushed all women (mostly journalists) to turn their backs towards the sadhus and also forbade the use cameras. The sadhus are certainly smarter.