Monday, 10 October 2016

Ujjain Simhast - An Experiential Experiment

The Experiment

As far as I know myself, I've never been excited for attending a major religious congregation of any kind. Frankly, I've never been excited to be anywhere close to places that expect massive throngs of people. I prefer the quiet and the calm almost as a rule. Despite all this, in the scorching heat of May, I found myself in the middle of a crowd of millions who had thronged by the banks of the Kshipra at Ujjain - a part of the Simhast Kumbh Mela, 2016.


 The flag flies high ...

A procession of tribal folk from Gujarat makes way through the crowd

I'm not sure why I accepted the invite - Shilpa, a traveler/photographer friend was traveling there - maybe, just maybe to let go and explore my limits unhindered. I'm not sure. All I know now is that for one and a half day I was part of something huge.

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The Start Of Something ... En-masse

We arrived at Ujjain by lunch-time. The hordes of pilgrims were already streaming in along with us. The barricaded traffic and quick diversions set the tone for the seriousness of the entire affair from the administration standpoint. It was Saturday when we arrived. One of the Shahi-Snans was scheduled on Monday. The crowds would only swell by Monday dawn.

Ujjain on the map

 
The crowd lines the street ...
... the mat makes for a makeshift sunscreen 

A quick check-in and a simple (shoddy?) lunch later we were again among the masses as we entered the premises of the Mahakaleshwar Temple - the main shrine of Ujjain. The queues were streamlined ensuring a hassle-free darshan. We were out among the masses again.

The Mahakaleshwar Temple

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The Kshipra

The Kshipra is the star of the Simhast - the river unto whose waters a dip would cleanse the soul. It would be wise to ignore the Narmada-Kshipra Interlink for the moment. Yeah.

The pontoon bridges span the river at intervals ...
... the fountains refresh the water

Well, all roads converged to her banks and all those who converged took a dip. The entire fountain-paddle-pump system used to keep the waters sanely flowing could not, in the end, entice me to take a dip. Sometimes, it is a bit difficult to let go.

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The Akhadas Out Yonder

Crossing the river on the pontoon bridges took us to the side of the akhadas. The akhadas mostly had the revered naga-babas and their ardent followers sharing makeshift tents. The permanent akhadas (local) were directly at the river bank. The walk on this side brought out a side of faith quite unseen in a regular urban life. And it was ... unsettling.

  
The Dattatrey Akhada - massive and beautiful

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The Evening On The Kshipra

The Kshipra, big-hearted as it is, did delight me as the last of the day's light faded out over the horizon and the Kshipra-aarti began. The spectacle took some time to start as the Kshipra readied herself - and then it was all brilliance.

The small bows and arrow-heads - not a concern

 
 The sun sets behind the western bank

 
 The aarti in full flow

The brilliance subsided in a while and was followed by the dispersal of a massively massive crowd.

 
Scenes after the aarti

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Humanity On A Platter

As the night descended, a few more aspects of the Simhast emerged. Apart from the pilgrims and the administration, there was another substantial chunk of people in Ujjain - the locals. The throngs of people pouring in to the city had to be served and served well. The enterprising populace put out all efforts to cater to this demand. Some even stretched themselves to inhuman limits - a 36 hour workday unflinchingly manning a paratha stall would sum it up.

The deepmals of th Harsiddhi Temple ...
... we just missed the last of the diyas going off
 
And then there were some who would setup a kitchen to sell shoddy, overpriced stuff while passing a hand over their already bulging belly. Some hotels had opened up, obviously charging jacked up rates. This specie existed too.

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View From The Media Box

Our Sunday morning was mostly spent in the empty media box overlooking the important Ram Ghat of the Kshipra as we watched pilgrims in much higher numbers do about the chores today. Another walk through the akhada zone followed, but even this section was crowded today. The river again provided some respite from the heat to us and the throngs that arrived on the banks.

 A curious sight - sadhu balancing a pot on his head

 
The Ram Ghat on early Sunday morning

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Final Moments

I'd to leave by early evening to be able to return to Mumbai by Monday morning. As I was leaving the city, the only thing that I could see were the pilgrims heading in to the city. The road from Indore was lined up with a continuous stream of vehicles. The Shahi-Snan is the main attraction for many and is one of the holiest days for taking the dip.

Something from the Mahakaleshwar Temple

I left the holy congregation with a mixed feeling. I learnt some new things about myself which was good. Seeing the massive crowds around me move in a continuous wave sometimes makes one feel very inconsequential. Maybe we are, and maybe not.

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The Shahi-Snan - Bonus!

Shilpa was to stay back for the next day too. Sharing some of her pics from the early morning Shahi-Snan. You can follow her photography and adventures on Instagram @ aspiritbedouin.






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