Simhastha Maha Kumbh Mela – 2nd Shahi Snan
I’ve probably made this Kumbh Mela shahi snan procession fifty times in my life over the past 46 years as a sadhu and member of Juna Akhara, and yet… It always feels as if the first time: the waiting, the building anticipation, the enormous crowds, and then the blind frenzy of exploding excitement, spectacle, and an unseen commanding order subduing seemingly unbridled chaos.
We emerged from the thani at 2:30 AM, accompanying our devata, Guru Dattatreya, carried in a palanquin, led by Shri Maharaj Macchendra Puri Ji, shouldering the bhala spear. At this Kumbh, our encampment of our four Janmat Shri Mahants, who represent the four sections of lineages in Juna Akhara with their several thousand Naga Babas, was situated about 3.5 kilometers from temple, gadi, and samadhis of Datt Akhara, which is the headquarters of Juna Akhara in Ujjain, and where most of the rank and file of Juna Akhara resides during the mela. But our devata, and initiations took place at the thani, which meant that three times during the 30 days, we would march with great fanfare with Guru Dattatreya to the ghat of Datt Akhara where we would bathe him in the River Kshipra.
Inside of the procession of Naga Babas, there is a constant push (of tens of thousands), like the unyielding current of the Ganga in Uttarkashi, resulting in the occasional stampede. One must allow one’s body, compressed among thousands, to move and twist with the flow. Toes are smashed, dhotis (when worn) are dishevelled and the roar of “HARHAR MAHADEV!!” is deafening.
Shri Mahant Mangalanand Puri and I walked together, as we have in countless Kumbh Melas, looking after each other. He takes most of the photos you see here. It’s traditional that we walk in pairs, although our processions these days are considerably more chaotic.