15 Million take sacred dip during Shahi Snan – Maha Kumbh Mela Ujjain 2016
Every street and alleyway in Ujjain is jammed packed with jubilant pilgrims as a city of close to 500,00 inhabitants welcomes 15 million guests. For 18 hours, beginning at about 2:30 AM when the auspicious time for the sacred bathing began, this massive flood of the faithful moves in a steady, overwhelming current towards the bathing ghat of Datt Akhara on the banks of River Kshipra. 15 million people of all colors, religions, classes, castes, genders, and ages, all walking towards the river, ALL OF THEM lost. Their diverse identities forged into one unyielding mass. Piercing this current, the Naga Babas of Juna Akhara accompanying their devata, Guru Dattatreya with flower draped bhala spears, lead a procession of all the mahatmas of India and their devotees, that will continue until after sunset. This is known as the Shahi Snan, the “Imperial Bath, or the “Royal Bath.”
Pir Ji meets Devata at Ghat
Completing the 3.5 kilometer procession, the Naga Babas accompanying Guru Dattatreya arrive on the ghat as the Pir of Datt Akhara reaches on his elephant
The Pir of Datt Akhara, Paramanand Puri Ji, climbs atop an elephant, followed by his pujari, at the threshold gate of the Akhara. He makes a grand circle around the contours of the encampment surrounding the akhara, followed by hisdevotees and assorted Naga Babas. The Pir’s procession meets that Devata’s at the entrance of the ghat. Walking next to the elephant in the midst of the now ecstatic Naga Babas, I come to appreciate just how well that elephant was trained and how disciplined he was in all that chaos, for one little swing of his tail, and dozens of us would be knocked down the steps.
Graciously, the elephant bends her knees and sits on the top of the ghat as the Pir descends to cheers of “Har Har Mahadev!”
Pir Ji is ritually bathed by the akhara purohit, Shailendra Vedika, first with the waters of the Kshipra, then with fragrant oils, as several purohits gather around the Devata, Guru Dattatreya, and together with Shri Maharaj Macchendar Puri Ji, Secretary Narayan Giri Ji and other elders among the Naga Babas, they bath the devata.
The thousands of Naga Babas of Juna Akhara, pushing onto the ghat, dive into the river, once the initial abhishek is completed.