The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared the Kumbh Mela in India to be in the ‘Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ during its 12th session being held at Jeju, South Korea from 4-9 December, 2019. Crore of people congregate in Kumbh at Prayagraj (earlier Allahabad) during these religious fairs not only to seek divine grace but also accumulate divine knowledge and attain spirituality.
Apart from crore of pilgrims, lakhs of foreign tourists also become the part of the congregation that is held at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Many saints and religious leaders assemble in this fair as well. Their sermons are well-attended by devotees, who go back enriched and enlightened. Visiting this religious fair often marks the beginning of a spiritual journey for many attendees who embark on a new journey of forgiveness and universal brotherhood. During this Kumbh at Prayag, the following religious and spiritual issues are likely to be discussed.
At Individual level
At present, an individual is at crossroads whether to follow the tenets of religion or to indulge in material life in violation of settled norms of morality and disciplined life as ordained in the religious scriptures. Norms of morality and conduct are flagrantly being violated by the leaders including politicians, bureaucrats and even religious leaders.
How can an individual fasten himself to the well-laid down norms of life when his own existence is being threatened repeatedly and he feels helpless. Can the norms laid down by the Vedas, Puranas, Smritis and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata strike him as a good bargain? Every individual today does a cost-benefit analysis for each of his actions. If his concerns of livelihood, employment and reasonably good life are not addressed properly, he will likely rebel against the system. That will be dangerous for the harmony and peace of Indian society which has so far been subscribing to the mandates of the Vedas and Shastras.
The religious gathering in Kumbh is likely to address these issues at the individual level and state the way how an individual can lead his nuclear family life (that is fast replacing the joint family structure) peacefully and blissfully.
At Societal Level
There is degeneration of the concept of the Guru and people are unable to comprehend the age old traditional Indian values known as ‘Sanatan’ or perpetual tradition. In the absence of such values, an individual is directionless. The religious gathering at Kumbh will decide whether the four Shankarachryas of the Hindu fold will take upon themselves to bring the truth before the large sea of the Hindu community after resolving their inner conflicts and contradictions and whether politics and criminality can be separated from religion. It will also decide whether the religious leaders can refuse donations from the black marketers and whether an individual can fight alone against a vicious societal circle. The Kumbh Mela is likely to address the issue of how a faithless society like ours can be converted into a self-assured society and how good governance can be assured and the system cleaned up.
At National Level
The Kumbh Mela is a great occasion to deliberate on national issues though it is mainly concerned with the emancipation of individual life. As per the great Indian way of thinking, if individuals progress, society will progress automatically.
Indians are said to be good as individuals but bad as a group. How the duty towards society and nation can be more infused over and above so called patriotism can be an important issue that can be deliberated upon in this religious gathering. The Kumbh Mela may throw directions on how to eradicate social evils. It can be expected that those visiting this fair will go back with a clear understanding of how to mitigate social issues. Simply abusing the present political and administrative system will not serve any purpose.
Swami Ramdev has shown how Indian companies can withstand the onslaught of multinational companies. The religious fair can also throw some light on how the cleaning up of the Ganga River can be better organised with participation from diverse stake-holders including religious practitioners.
At International Level
The Indian way of life is spreading across the world. Techno-logy has made it possible. Indian culture, ethos and practices are going to earn significant amounts of foreign currencies in times to come. The Kumbh Mela is a perfect platform to showcase Indian culture and practices in front of a global audience. It can act as a launching pad for Indian saints and sadhus who can take India to the global stage and promote India as a country that believes and truly practises ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’.
According to Amartya Sen, India is a society of discourse and dialogue. This Kumbh Mela is an apt forum for such discourses. It can show a way to control inequalities and discrimination. This religious congregation can emit constructive ideas that can pave the way for new thinking and action in India.
— The author is retired as Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal.
[The views expressed here are personal and don’t reflect those of the government]