Kumbh Mela – the biggest religious gathering in the world. Some millions of people (numbers unknowable but the only certain thing is that you can’t believe any of the estimates) in a vast tent city on the sands of the Ganges, an area that is fully underwater during the monsoon.
Like Burning Man but with more water. Much more water.
That was mostly the point – to bathe in Ganga Ma and to receive her blessings at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Along with millions of devotees, thousands of holy men and a few holy women. These were as exotic as you might expect – dressed in orange/dressed in nothing/loaded with gold/smeared with ash/wearing sunglasses/carrying tridents/carrying swords/talking on their mobiles…
But the water… I came with the firm intention of not bathing in the Ganges. And then the water came down from above in an unprecedented 36 hours of rain with lightning strikes. That’s the thing I find about India. I come for adventure but it is usually a totally different adventure than the one I thought I was going to get. And as my expectations are blasted away, a “not knowing” takes their place. Not a dreamy, fuzzy not knowing – more a surrender to the realisation that my guesses, opinions, predictions, judgements on what is going on around me count for nothing.
In the midst of all this, the Saha Astitva camp was a gentle, humming space filled with a swirl of visitors, volunteers and staff. Around the fire each night were photographers, journalists, seed savers, coffee lovers, video artists, travellers, devotees, corporate managers (okay, that might just have been me), musicians, tantrikas – sharing organic food, conversation and a haven from the miles of craziness outside. Saha Astitva means “harmonious integration” and this was a whole new manifestation.
Sometimes it was wild more than gentle. At the height of the rainstorm, as many as could crammed into the tiny metal roofed kitchen to chant kirtan and bang on pans and even on the walls. It was one of the best half hours of the week.
So how did all this happen? Well, Daniel had an idea…
It should have been impossible. But he and a team of volunteers, friends and allies* overcame every type of obstacle to create a place from which so many people could have mad, beautiful, challenging experiences. And survive to tell the tale.
Jai Daniel! Jai team! Jai Saha Astitva!
*declaration of interest – I was one.