Kumbh Mela and Media

  • By Prabuddha Bharata
  • November 2001

The Kumbha Mela Ended Peacefully
To the great relief of one and all, the greatest Hindu religious congregation, the Kumbha Mela, passed off peacefully. No man made disasters, no natural calamities. Millions of people came, took part in it, became blessed, and returned home in peace and joy. An unexpected number of devotees attended the Kumbha Mela this time. The Kumbha Mela management was stunned at the unique response: at least 50 million people attended the Mela on the holy mauni amavasya day ! The authorities simply didn’t know how to cope with the sea of humanity, but cope with they did, to the satisfaction of one and all. In spite of all the rush and struggle, there was no trouble anywhere. Someone remarked : ‘Even small puja pandals can’t organize things in such an elegant manner.’ Rightly said. The earth’s greatest spiritual gathering of human beings thus came to an end in a grand, grand way. Despite this success, all wasn’t milk and honey for Kumbha Mela: there was the media.

                                                                      What the Media Said

Perhaps some of our readers couldn’t attend the Kumbha Mela, and had to be satisfied with television news and media reports only. We hear a few TV channels showed much of the Kumbha Mela. We also hear that some sections of the media gave favorable reports of the event. Thanks to them. But not all sections of the press were kind: there were terrible pictures and comments.

The main concern of the media is improving sales. And in order to sell, they can go to any extent. That’s what many did with regard to the Kumbha Mela news also. They printed offensive and sometimes doubtful pictures, and published derogatory reports, comments, and even editorials. They saw only politics, indecency, etc, in the Kumbha Mela too.

Hindus are traditionally disunited. We are an easy prey to criticism. Any tom, Dick and Harry can write or speak ill of us, all right. If Hinduism is criticized, let alone others, many Hindus themselves enjoy it. They are happy if our sadhus are criticized, if our religion is censured and if our practices are maligned! Those reporters and press people who malign Hindu gods and goddesses, our saints and celebrations-who are they? They too are Hindus alone, but with a difference. They are modern people, chiefly given to drinking, dancing, and enjoying life. To their ultra-modern eyes, the ancient religion appears to be full of weakness.

And so they write whatever they can against this ancient religion. But let them say a word against some other religions! They don’t dare do that. They are scared of the consequences. Does that mean that the oldest religion on earth, Hinduism, alone has all that is bad and other religions and their followers are jewels? In the name of broadness, in the name of the so-called anti-fundamentalism and secularism, we Hindus have degraded ourselves to such an extent that we enjoy reading silly criticisms about our own sanatana dharma!

The Organiser (27 November 2000-3 December 2000 issue) carried a pictorial report titled ‘Indian Gods on US Toilet Seats.’ Sittin’s Pretty Designs, a Seattle-based firm, started selling toilet seats with large pictures of Ganesa, Kali and other gods and goddesses pasted on them. Deities on toilet seats ! We don’t do that to our worst enemies, do we?

                                                                    Weakness is not Broadness

In the name of broadness, we Hindus needn’t have to be so meek and subdued. First of all let us know what our religion is, how great its ideals are, and then practice them. A part from the glorious works of SwamiVivekananda, there are several good books available on Hinduism, like Swami Nirvedananda’s Hinduism at a Glance, D.S. Sharma’s Hinduism Through Questions and Answers, and the latest book, Gavin Flood’s An Introduction to Hinduism Let’s read and under stand the basics of this religion. A proper understanding and a little practice are in them selves a strong protest. But let’s be bold to say no to criticism too. Why should we be weak? When two missionaries went on criticizing Hindu religion before Swami Vivekananda on board a ship, Swamiji caught hold of them and said : ‘One more word, and I shall throw both of you overboard. ‘Seeing his strong physique, the missionaries must have understood what he meant, and became silent.

Why can’t we be bold? Swami Vivekananda repeatedly stressed boldness. Boldness isn’t arrogance, but correct depiction of strength. What a single individual of some newspaper writes isn’t the whole of truth. Let’s use our judgement and discretion. When you protest something wrong done to your religion, you don’t become a fanatic or a fundamentalist: such ideas are all the creation of the media. ‘Secularism’ is a much-abused word now. If Christians or Muslims protest something wrong done or said against their respective religions (even imaginary sometimes!) it is treated with immense sympathy. But when it comes to Hinduism, it is called fundamentalism, narrowness, etc. In Kashmir, for instance, so many Hindus are killed, but the media announces it as a passing event. But see the hype when someone from other religions is killed. Haj pilgrims get subsidy: can Hindus dream of such privileges? Why this discrimination? Because Hindus are weak and disunited. Meekness and humility are good qualities, but weakness and disunity are not.

Furthermore, whether it’s the Kumbha Mela photographs or others, please accept them with a pinch of salt when it comes to the media. This is the computer and supertechnology age, mind you, and please know that the computer is a genius. The photographs which the media published were all that the millions could get to witness of the great event. But there were singing, discourses, thousands participating in mass devotional practices, free feeding, lectures, decorated pandals, etc too. Why, the press saw only politics, a monk or a nun smoking ganja (as they press said!) or an old monk speaking on a cellphone (perhaps given by the reporter himself to him, to mock monasticism!) When we told a doctor that we were going to the Kumbha Mela, the doctor said : ‘Oh , what’s there in the Kumbha Mela? Monks and nuns smoking ganja’

Hinduism is the broadest religion with the widest scope and the greatest promise to everyone down to the weakest sinner, and this religion alone has discovered the truth of the Atman. The treasures this religion contains are simply immense. We don’t say that there are no black sheep in Hinduism; there might be some here and there to fill their stomach. But this black sheep phenomenon is universal! Yet, it’s this sacred religion alone that is targeted by the ultra-modern! Let’s now see what exactly took place at the Kumbha Mela.

                                                                India Lives in the Villages

Swami Vivekananda had remarked that India lives in the villages. Truly enough, the Kumbha Mela showed what the Indian village really is. If at all religion is living today. It is to a great extent in the villages. Millions upon millions of human beings, daring the biting cold and chill weather, carrying what little they possessed at home, walking mile after mile with their families in dust and hunger to the venue of the Kumbha Mela just in order to have a dip was something were simply flooded with people who were chanting the holy name of Rama and walking slowly but steadily to have a dip at the sacred confluence. The sky was their roof and the riverbed their home. Their little ovens were fashioned out of sand. They lived there, on the sacred riverbank, under the starlit sky and the sunshine, waiting for the auspicious moment to bathe in the holy confluence of mothers Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati. And what were they doing all the while? Repeating the name of rama endlessly! The holy Prayag reverberated with the holy names of God for days at a stretch! Millions of voices sang the name of Rama, and the entire area had a thrilling spiritual atmosphere.

Coming to the beautifully designed pandals and akhadas, there was a continuous singing of hymns and stotras, songs and kirtanas, there was the chanting of Vedic hymns, there were discourses and dramas, etc. There were thousands of holy men and women from various orders, their hearts fixed on the Lord and their minds anxious to think of Him, telling the ardent devotees about the Lord’s glory in diverse ways. The mauni amavasya (24 January) was the greatest day. That day, through over 60 million people had assembled on the Kumbha Mela grounds, and many were stopped, there was no untoward incident. Because of the crowds and the narrowness of bridges, there was some pushing no doubt. But there was not a grumble anywhere.

Instead, even when pushed, people shouted ‘Ramachandraji ki jai!’ Struggle, yet keep your mind in God-this is the greatness of Hinduism. Then there were many organizations feeding thousands at a time, free of charge. The Nanakpanthis, for instance, were busy serving food to thousands in their langar-khanas. Hundreds of non-Indians were seen in the Kumbha Mela area, moving as the Indians do, singing and chanting God’s names as the Indians do. In all, it was all a uniquely inspiring event.

Walking along the vast area, you could see old men and women with two sticks to support them, muttering Sri Rama’s names and slowly walking towards their destinations. There was a paralyzed girl on a wooden seat with wheels, going towards the holy rivers; one wonders how she managed to enter the Mela grounds at all! Then there were little children being carried by their parents, and one always feared as to what would happen to them in case of a stampede-which of course could happen any moment. But nothing happened. The press didn’t notice all this! 

The police should be lauded for all that they did. They tried their utmost to serve the public. There were exceptions, of course. But they themselves were devotees and when they saw a monk or nun, they would say ‘pranam’ with respect. They no doubt used their batons in extreme instances of pushing, but it was only to make sound: they would beat the luggage, which the devotees carried. Who can control the floods of the sea? All the bridges and barricades stood there to display their inadequacy only, or so it appeared.

Devotion, devotion, and devotion every where. When the sadhus went in procession to the bathing ghat, no doubt there was some trouble owing to the huge crowds and some pushing, but thousands of people had sat all night to watch the procession braving the cold After the sadhus took bath, it was the turn of the devotees. After their bath, when thousands of devotees were returning to their camps or respective places, one could notice immense joy and peace in all their faces. After all, their efforts had been successful: they have been freed from sins by bathing in the holy confluence.

The Ramakrishna Mission camp, organized by the Ramakrishna Math, Allahabad, was a beautiful one-well-organized and well designed, and the monks served thousands of devotees and monks with great devotion. Bhajans, lectures, etc, were going on incessantly in the pandal, and a religious conference was organized on 28th, in which the mahants of many akhadas took part.

Attending the Kumbha Mela one understands what power and potential Hinduism has. A little streamlining and organization, and we could do wonders. We also come to know what strong faith the poor villagers-millions of them-have.

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