Kumbh Mela January 20, Diana Eck
All night, the waves of chants rolling from the tents and pavilions of the Kumbh Mela are a pillow of sound for our sleep. By 5:00 a.m., the sounds become louder and more insistent punctuated by the occasional conch blasts, announcing a new day. Some of our research groups are out early, leaving by 5:30 to visit the sangam for the early morning activities or the vegetable market to track the food routes into the vast camp. For us, the day began after nine, when our research group went to sector 9, almost the “suburbs” of the Kumbh City, where the camps are more spacious and where some of the construction is still very much in process. The crews that are world-experts in the bamboo and rope construction method were out lashing up gateways and the walls of cottages and audience halls. Several of the most popular gurus, like Pilot Baba, have their camps in this sector.
Our destination was the camp of the head of the Juna Akhara, Swami Avdeshanand Giri Ji, the Mahamandaleshvara of Juna Akhara. We arrived at just the same time the gates opened for what seemed like thousands of sannyasis who surged into the spacious compound like a great pale orange wave and then fell into an orderly single file line that moved steadily toward the hall where they each were to be fed with sweets, namkin, and tea. As they entered the hall, each stopped at a table set up in the courtyard to receive a 20 rupee bill as dakshina, the payment offered by Avdeshanand Ji for accepting his hospitality. More later on our tour of this spacious camp and our visit with Avdeshanand Ji. Diana Eck