The Kumbh Mela in India is the biggest gathering of human beings on the planet, 100 million people trying to bathe in the holy rivers. With holy men and sadhus from all over India gathering there it’s a fascinating and frankly, interesting spectacle…as traveling yoga teacher Joanne Smallwood reports
“I want you to meet the ‘one eye Naga baba’*. His one eye is completely white; they say it’s from looking at the sun. He slaps you really hard on the back to raise your kundalini.” My friend explained as he lead me down a dusty laneway, in Sector 4 of the Kumba Mela, the largest Hindu pilgrimage festival in the world.
The Kumbh Festival is held on rotation at Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik every four years, but this Kumbh which was held at Allabahad (Prayag) on the banks of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati Rivers, has a special significance; it is only occurs every 12 years. It is believed that a dip in Sangam, the spot where these holy rivers converge will wash away all of your Karmas allowing you to achieve moksha or liberation. The sacred festival is held over 6 weeks, covers 1936 hectares and attracts 100 million people.
We stopped in front of a tent and I peered inside to catch my first glimpse of the one eyed Naga Sadhu. The tent was adorned with Shiva’s tridents and orange marigolds; the Sadhu was sitting to the right of the fire pit, which contained one large smoldering log. His naked skin was smeared with ash from the fire. He was wearing his dreadlocks pilled high on his head, they were secured with a crown of marigold garlands, and the flowers then draped down around his chin and under his bushy beard then the longest sting of the garland fell down past his navel. He was leaning back on one hand with his legs open wide. His lingam* was supported in the marigold garland like a sling and with his free hand he is dropping fistfuls of ash on to it like a child playing at the beach. “Hmmm, so that’s him?” I asked.
The baba looked up to catch us watching him and we all laughed; he released his lingam from the sling and regained his traditional crossed leg posture. He waved us inside the tent and motioned to the space beside him. I dug a 10 Rupee note out of my pocket and knelt down in front of him with my hands in prayer and touched my forehead to the ground.
He gently placed his hand on the back of my head for a moment and then he moved it to my back to issue the Kundalini slap. I sat up and touched his feet as a sign of respect. He grabbed on to my wrist and pulled me close to sit beside him, then leaned back as if to admire his new toy, he ran his ash covered hand over my hair several times and then hugged me tight. More pilgrims approaching the tent for blessings interrupted our embrace. He gave out each blessing but never said a word the only sound that filled the tent was the repeated recorded drone of “OM Namah Shivaya” being played over a small stereo.
The one eyed Naga Baba continued to offer me his affection while the pilgrim numbers were low, and before long I was given a job in the blessing procedure. As people knelt at his feet, he would touch their heads, issue the Kundalini slap, then place an ash marking on their third eye, and then send them away with some ash from the sacred fire. He placed a bundle of peacock feathers in my hand and motioned to me to strike each person on the head three times as they came back up to sitting. We sat together, gave out blessings, posed for pictures, he smoked cigarettes and offered me a chillum and when it wasn’t busy we enjoyed the occasional snuggle.
As we stood at the doorway to leave, I placed my hands in prayer and to my forehead to offer my respect one last time. The one eyed Naga baba smiled nodded his head and motioned to the empty space beside him once more.
“I think he wants you to stay.” My friend suggested.
“To be honest… I am tempted.” I replied.
*Indian holy men who never wear any clothing and are smeared in ash