I cringe when I hear negativities about world religion, it is bit uncool spiritually speaking.
Ardh Kumbh festival brings people from different faiths together in Allahabad
By Virendra Pathak
Allahabad, Jan.22 (ANI): The presence of million of saints, seers and people from across the country and abroad at the Ardh Kumbh festival here has turned the mega religious occasion into a special event for communal harmony.
Be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Sikh, one can find people of all faiths arriving here from far off places from within the country and abroad to participate in the 42-day festival which is held after six years by Hindus. They term it a spiritual experience beyond the boundaries of one's religious faith.
'Akhadas', or organisations of various sects of Hindu priests, that play a major role in organising the event, are encouraging many people from different religious backgrounds to come and participate in the auspicious event.
David Koppo, a Catholic pastor from Adelaide, Australia, was recently invited to Allahabad by his long-time friend and Guru Mahamadaleshwar, a Hindu Guru.
Koppo and his nephew felt so much influenced by their maiden exposure to Hindu spirituality that the latter has decided to be a Hindu ascetic himself.
"There is such great spiritual energy here at the Kumbh mela and coming from Australia and coming a very different tradition, the Christian tradition, it is a very big honour indeed for me to be here; and to be with myephew Devanand who is going to become a 'sanyasi' (Hindu ascetic)," Koppo said.
Many Muslims are taking a holy dip in the River Ganges with their Hindu friends side by side.
"My name is Shahabuddin Siddiqui. I am a Muslim and from Varanasi. I have been camping here at the Kumbh for a month now. I listen to sermons by Moraraji Bapu (Hindu spiritual guru) every morning, after which I go and bathe in the holy waters," he said.
Amina and Ali, a Pakistani couple whose ancestors belonged to Allahabad before Partition, has arrived with family for the first time to understand their roots better.
"We should have open minds. There are differences, but we should acknowledge and appreciate them. The central idea of all forms of existence is peace, contentment and friendship," said Amina.
Devouts from all over the world have descended on Allahabd in large numbers for the Kumbh festival. All of them have arrived braving freezing temperatures to bathe in the Ganges waters and attain Nirvana or, salvation.
The festival takes place at the confluence of the River Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical Saraswati.
The "Maha Kumbh Mela" in 1989 attracted 15 million pilgrims and the Guinness Book of Records dubbed it the largest gathering of human beings for a single purpose. The festival only bettered it in 2001, which drewetween 50 and 70 million (ANI)
Once Beverly Hills resident in 'bliss' at Kumbh Mela
By Sharat Pradhan, Indo-Asian News Service
Allahabad, Jan 22 (IANS) It was 38 years ago that Baba Rampuri, as this once Beverly Hills resident is now called, set out from Los Angeles in search of truth and peace. He was just 18 then. He has been at each Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh since 1971, and the son of an American dental surgeon turned Hindu ascetic says the English dictionary 'does not have a word to describe the bliss I experience each time I am here'.
His first halt was an ashram in Rajasthan, from where his guru took him to Haridwar, one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage centres on the bank of the Ganga, where he found his new home. By the time he was 20, he made up his mind to give up all worldly pleasures, including the company of the rich and the famous, to step into a contrasting world where abstinence was the buzzword.
The saffron clad 56-year-old - who refuses to give his original American name - is now camping on the banks of the holy river here, taking part in the 42-day-long Ardh Kumbh - the every six-year religious cornucopia during which millions take dip in the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers sacred to Hindus, in the hope of gaining salvation from what the faithful believe the unending cycle of births and deaths.
'A dip at the Sangam during the Kumbh Mela gives me more pleasure that one could get in a football match,' Baba Rampuri told IANS, taking a few puffs of the 'chillam' which he describes as 'part of the tradition'.
'I did go back to LA after my first visit here in 1968 but decided to return to India in 1971 once and for all ... and that too with just $20 in my pocket.'
Baba Rampuri was formally initiated into the world of Hindu ascetic life 36 years ago on these very banks of the Sangam. He was among the first few whites to find a privileged place in the Juna Akhara, which is considered the oldest of India's nine Hindu akharas, or religious orders.
'Yes, I have had my share of sex, drugs and even political activism, but that is all history,' he says.
There are many foreigners like Baba Rampuri, including women, who have left their homes in far away continents and have become Hindu sadhus. Most of them prefer not to reveal their original names.
Says Jasraj Puri, an Australian who became a sadhu: 'My original name was washed down in the waters of the Ganga and got immersed in the Bay of Bengal 15 years ago when I joined the ashram of Swami Maheshwaranand, who went from India decades ago to set up base in Vienna.'
The 35-year-old former physiotherapist has picked up reasonably good Hindi as well and currently heads an ashram-cum-school run by his guru Maheshwaranand in Rajasthan.
The polluted waters of the Ganga don't discourage him from a daily dip. 'The Ganga is spiritually so pure that pollution and even visible dirt becomes secondary and immaterial,' explains Puri to IANS.
Similarly, Ganga, 45, arrived here from her home in Britain nearly 10 years ago. 'I propose to spend the rest of my life in the Maha Nirvani Akhara,' she said.
While camping at the Ardh Kumbh, Ganga makes it a point to take a dip in the Sangam every morning. 'But it was a different experience on Mauni Amavasya (Jan 19), the holiest of the holy bathing days,' she said after stepping out of the water in which an estimated ten million took a hallowed dip that day.
Hindu spirituality continues to attract youth from various countries. Verena, 25, is a first-time visitor to the Kumbh from Germany and is so overwhelmed by the spiritual rituals here that she wouldn't mind settling down as a disciple in the Juna Akhara.
And 24-year-old Dase, another Kumbh first-timer from Latvia, is only too keen to give her company.
Susan, who has come from the US, is still debating whether she should abandon her filmmaking career in California and settle down to a saffron life of Hindu renunciates.
'I will go back at the end of the Kumbh Mela but I might be back soon. The divinity I have tasted here has been an unparalleled experience, which I cannot describe in words,' said Susan.
The list is endless. Besides the over 450 foreigners in the Maheshwaranand camp, the Juna and Maha Nirvani Akharas too boast of nearly 250 people belonging from 17 countries who have chosen to embrace the Hindu spiritual path