Monday, February 18, 2013

Iyengar Yoga Intensive at Maha Kumbh Mela

Transformation of Asanas through Manouso Manos, the Iyengar Yoga Intensive Workshop at the very venue of Maha Kumbh Mela in the very beginning of the New Year 2013. Wow! What a way to start the New Year with. The entire stay of our 5 days at the banks of Triveni Sangam of Allahabad (the meeting point of three great Indian Rivers of Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati) was really an incredible experience in many ways. It’s already been over a month now but the memories of Kumbh Mela are still afresh in our minds and I think it is going to last for a very long time. It is for two major reasons. First is the venue of Maha Kumbh Mela because Kumbh Mela is an event that comes after twelve years and this Maha Kumbh has come after 144 years. Apart from that Kumbh Mela occupies a special place in the hearts of spiritual seekers. It is a dream destination for most of the spiritual people across the world. Second is the organization of the event called ‘Transformation of Asanas through Manouso Manos’, the Iyengar Yoga Intensive in the very heart of Kumbh. Manouso Manos is one of the two senior certified Iyengar yoga teachers by Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, who has come all the way from America to give his valuable teachings to the students of India.

Maha Kumbh Mela:

Kumbh Mela takes place every twelve years in Prayag and it is the biggest gathering of humans in the entire world. This year’s mela is called as the Maha Kumbh Mela as it has come after 144 years. A famous mythological story is associated with the organization of Maha Kumbh. One of the most popular and amazing mythological stories found in ancient Indian texts is Amrit Manthan that is, churning of the ocean for nectar, the celestial water of immortality.

As the story goes, once the gods and demons agreed to churn the great ocean and share the treasures or the 'ratnas' that will emerge from it. There were long arguments how this can be accomplished and how the booty will be distributed. The most precious treasure was amrit, the nectar. Both the gods and the demons laid their claims to it. One who drinks will become immortal and therefore, all-powerful and indestructible Gods could never accept this.

The legend goes thus - the gods and the demons fight for a pot of nectar (Amrit Kumbh): the nectar of immortality. Lord Vishnu, disguising himself as an enchantress (Mohini), seized the nectar from the demons. While fleeing from the evil ones, Lord Vishnu passed the nectar on to his vehicle Garuda, the Eagle King. The demons finally caught up with Garuda and in the ensuing struggle, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on Allahabad, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. Since then, the Kumbh Mela has been held in all these places, alternatively, every 12 years.

Kumbh is an occasion but with the passage of time it took the shape of a Religious and cultural festival, which leaves an impression on the whole world, such a festival where one thinks about religion and culture. Such a festival whose culture is “Vishnupadi” Ganga itself. Earlier, shape of this festival was small but now from 12th century the festival has grown. The festival of Kumbh or Ardh Kumbh is not a festival of market or fair instead it is the festival of knowledge, asceticism and devotion. Religious atmosphere is seen everywhere in this festival. Whichever camp you visit, in between smoke of Yagna (religious sacrifice), voice of ved mantras is heard, elucidation, dances based on mythological epics, prayers, preaches of saints and sages, a different society is seen. Traditional procession of Akharas, shining swords of naga sages in Shahi Snan (royal bath) between elephants, horses, musical instruments, horse race attracts lakhs of devotees to visit Kumbh. 

The Divine Sangam of Triveni:

Located about 7 Km from the Civil Lines in Allahabad is the holy site of Sangam where Kumbh Mela is held. It is at Sangam, a Sanskrit word for Confluence, where the union of three of the holiest rivers according to the Hindu Mythology - Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati takes place. While the brownish Ganga meets the greenish Yamuna, both of which have an earthly origin in the Himalayan mountain range, Saraswati on the other hand has no physical form and is believed to exist ethereally, without being visible to the human eye. Mentioned in the sacred texts many times over, it is in Prayag (ancient name for Allahabad) that Saraswati is believed to meet with Ganga and Yamuna. It is also believed to flow beneath the surface. The place is also known as Triveni Sangam because of the amalgamation of three rivers, and the combined sacredness of the three rivers coupled with the mythological legend, according to which a few drops of nectar that turns mortal to immortal had fallen here, has made Allahabad the Teerthraj or, The King of Holy Places. This is precisely why Kumbh Mela organized in Allahabad is of a different level and attracts millions of devotees to the shores.

Senior Iyengar Yoga Teacher ‘Manouso Manos’:

He moves like a whirlwind through the crowded classrooms within 60 seconds giving individual help to three or four students. Unleashing a volcano of energy, he awakens a lazy to work harder, challenges resistant egos to surrender and encourages the sick and injured to get better. At high moments, the air in his classes fairly crackles with electricity. The volume level of his instructions alone can give a tired body the energy to hold a pose for another few seconds. He is blunt, outspoken and frequently controversial, but he is never, never boring. His name is Manouso Manos, and he is as far as the media image of a mellow yogi as one could get. These are the exact words on Manouso Manos I found over internet in a very old article of Yoga Journal by Carol Cavanaugh couple of years ago when I was looking for an information on Guruji’s success in the west. There was a time when I had no teacher in person as I began to practice my yoga with Guruji’s book “Illustrated Light on Yoga”. In between I used to look out for articles and videos in Yoga journal, elephant journal and youtube to practice my asanas. In the process I explored Manouso Manos, Patricia Walden, Rodney Yee and John Schumacher who were giving lessons through Videos.

I found everything that was said about Manoso absolutely true in Allahabad. He is warm, generous, intelligent, quick, humorous, sensitive and a great observer. None of the Indian students present there ever met him before, but he made us so comfortable that we never felt new to each other. It took him no time to realize the strength and weakness of the students present over there. No student would have escaped from his eagle eyes. He was moving all over the place instructing, adjusting, shouting and yelling to do more and more. He was pushing us to do more than what we usually do by shouting hard..harder….. and more harder…….! He made such an impact in those three days that his words more… more…….and more……! And Harder….harder………and more harder……..! are still ringing in our ears. As the camp was arranged at the very banks of river Yamuna on the sand bed, he immediately realized the slanting of the surface towards the river and utilized that slide as a prop in doing certain asanas. He made use of whatever the props available there to the fullest extent and hasn’t failed to remind the famous words of Guruji ‘Body is my first Prop.’ He always surprised us starting the class from different directions though a fixed stage was set for him. There might be two reasons for that: First, he was utilizing the slide of the surface according to the asana and secondly, he was not allowing us to get conditioned in a certain way.

Manouso’s early life:

We were really surprised to see a small turnaround of Indian students for the camp. A group of 8-10 students from Delhi and 5 of us from Hyderabad and a group of 8-10 students and teachers from USA were present for the event. It might be because of two reasons. Firstly, many of the students in India are not familiar with Manouso Manos and secondly, the organization of the event was not well publicized. Actually it turned out positive for most of us as many of the students got an opportunity to address their issues with Manouso and resolve them.

During our interaction with Manouso I found his life story is very inspiring and challenging. He has gone through lot of pain and struggle in the beginning of his life before his adventure into yoga. I am adding here a short story of Manouso’s life and his stint into yoga which I found in Yoga Journal.

Manouso Manos is the name given to him by his Greek Parents. He grew up in Ohio, USA. From age 13, he was plagued by lower back pain. At 21, his friend handed him a book on Yoga saying, “It says here that this yoga stuff is a hope for the hopeless and you are certainly a hopeless character.” At that time Manos was driving a Truck in New York City to earn money to go to law school. He describes himself as a kid who had been overweight all his life, a person who has been fairly mealy-mouthed, who had done an enormous number of drugs, who didn’t had a whole lot going for him and who realized that yoga had offered a chance for Transformation.

Manouso practiced the poses and found that his back was improving and his life was changing. Suddenly he realized that yoga offered him the possibility of changing the world much more drastically than the wide-eyed boy who thought would become a lawyer could ever do. All of a sudden the Universe that he thought very restrictive was opened. There was a choice to do something or to stay on the regular path. And he was desperate enough to jump.

Manous moved to California, discovered the book on “Light on Yoga”, met its Author Guruji BKS Iyengar on his 1976 trip to the United States. Guruji encouraged him to visit India and study at his Institute. He describes that his first period of study with Guruji as one of enormous pain and suffering. But his back pain vanished and it never returned. He returned to California and began teaching Yoga. Working nightly until 2 a.m. as a bartender and waiter, Manouso managed to keep up his daily yoga practice and teach yoga classes in his spare time. He didn’t have a day off for 2 ½ years. Fortunately, his wife Rita, is also a Yoga teacher and understands and supports his work. In 1982 Manos quit his job as a waiter and expanded his yoga teaching into full time profession. His teaching in Sanfransico and guest workshops elsewhere was punctuated by frequent sabbaticals to India for further study in yoga with his teacher. In 1984, Manouso chaired the first International Iyengar Yoga Convention in Sanfransisco, a highly successful event that drew 750 Iyengar Yoga Students from all over the Globe for 10 days of classes and other events. Ever since, Manouso has never looked back in his career. He is one of the two senior Iyengar Yoga Teachers certified by Guruji and one of the most respected and popular yoga teachers in the Iyengar Yoga Community in America as well as other parts of the world.

Our Journey to Allahabad amidst drama:

Somehow a web link titled ‘Transformation of Asanas through Manouso Manos at Kumbh’ was stumbled up on my facebook page in the mid November of 2012. I gone through the information displayed in the page very carefully and shared the link in our group ‘Iyengar Yoga Hyderabad’ on facebook hoping that might interest some of the members in the group.

Though I was really impressed and excited to know that Manouso is coming all the way from Sanfransisco, USA to teach the students of India at Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and is not charging anything for his services, I was reluctant to go because I had just travelled back home from Bellur attending Guruji’s 94th birthday celebrations and I was acting little cautious about my budget because I promised my wife to take her to Dhyana Linga Temple in Coimbatore during Sankranti holidays in January. So, I just posted the link in our group on facebook.

Fortnight later, one of my friend Mohit called me up and said he is willing to attend the workshop and requested me to accompany him. I would rather say insisted me to attend the workshop. Then I told my wife, Dhyana Linga or Kumbh Mela what does it matter both places have the same significance. Dhyana Linga can be visited any time of the year, but Kumbh Mela comes every 12 years. So we should not miss the opportunity. Further, you are learning yoga from me for the last couple of years but now it is an opportunity to get an exposure from someone like Manous Manos. Next day she and a friend of her Smt. Vasanta showed their consent to visit Allahabad. Mohit and I informed our teacher Zarna madam about the event and requested her to join us. She was really happy about the event but unfortunately could not join us due to her tight work schedule. We conveyed the message to other students of our class but only four students Sirisha, Sweta, Sridhar and Raghavendra excitingly came forward. We therefore booked our train tickets to and from Allahabad as per the schedule and registered ourselves for the camp in Allahabad with Taraji who was the chief coordinator of the operations of Ganga Action Parivar Camp for this event.

The calendar has rolled over to a new year and we were getting closer to the day of our trip to Allahabad ie. 9th Jan’13. The real drama began now. One week before the scheduled departure Smt. Vasanta was the first one to step back citing some reason of her mother. Next was Sridhar whose grand father was seriously ill and then followed Raghavendra citing reasons of his bad health. It was the turn of my wife Tulsi now. She was denied the leave by her school as her class children had an exam on 10th of Jan’13. I made her one thing very clear that the trip must go on and you are coming with me whether you get the leave or not. Just drop your leave letter on the table of your Principal and come irrespective of the consequences. She did exactly the same and was finally allotted the leave after some argument. Finally five of us remained in the group from Hyderabad. So I communicated with Taraji and re-registered the final five members for the camp as they have to arrange the tents for our accommodation.

The day of our journey has finally arrived. But the drama had not reached the climax yet. The day before the journey I asked everyone to come early and board the train half an hour before the scheduled departure. But can you believe it? I was the last one to board the train. We were badly struck in the Hyderabad Traffic and virtually given up the journey and let everything go on the grace of traffic and the driver. By the time we reached the station 5 minutes were left and the train was on platform no#8. Oh goodness! We ran like the horses with that heavy luggage on our back and finally made it couple of minutes before the departure putting an end to all the drama.

Facilities at the Camp:

The event was organized by Parmarth Niketan Ashram of Rishikesh with the title Ganga Action Parivar Camp. One of the main objectives of the camp is to bring awareness among the people and the authorities to keep the Ganga clean. The facilities in the camp are the best among the camps in Prayag. They took utmost care in ensuring best of the facilities for the visitors. The tents we lived in were excellent, the food was great and every other facility was up to the mark. More importantly they ensured to provide good warm blankets to protect us from the chilling cold at nights. Our whole hearted thanks to all those worked their skin out in those chilling weather conditions to make the event successful.

Our interaction with Manouso and his wife Rita:

We arrived at the Ganga Action Parivar Camp held at Arail Ghat of Yamuna river around 11 AM on 10th of January 2013. After fulfilling the obligations of registration, we were taken to the tents allotted for us. Mohit and I walked out to have a look around in the camp. We saw Mr. Manouso was walking with his wife Rita towards the dining hall. We interrupted them and introduced ourselves as the students of Hyderabad and said we were really glad to meet them and welcomed them to India and the Maha Kumbh. He generously replied saying; it’s an honor and pleasure coming here to teach you with a broad smile on his face. We further added that we already met Ritaji couple of weeks ago in Bellur during Guruji’s birthday in a Temple and she immediately recognized and acknowledge the same with a cute smile. Manouso seemed to have really impressed with the arrangements made over there. He asked us, isn’t it wonderful? We said yes it is! He then asked us to meet at 9 AM next morning in the class and walked away.

Since we were living in the same place, we often used to meet and greet each other. But we never really got a chance to interact with him until the last day of the camp. After finishing Pranayama class in the evening, he was getting ready to leave as I approached him and said, Sir we might be leaving early tomorrow and thank you for everything you have given us in all these days. They are special, very valuable and unforgettable. He said, Oh! It’s a pleasure and honor for an American guy to come and teach in India. I asked for a photograph and immediately said, Sure! Where do you want? Here? Or is it fine if we go there and have one; pointing at the banner on the stage. We had a long session of photographs with Manouso, Rita and other teachers & students from USA and Delhi.

At night around 8 PM the same day, we found Manouso chit chatting with some of his fellow Americans in the dining hall. I approached him and asked whether I can join him. He stood up and said, Oh yeah you are welcome! Let’s have a seat, we are a family. I told him that we are making a short film on the event of Kumbh Mela, would you like to share some of your views with us? He happily agreed and said, “It is an honor for any American guy to come to India and teach and in the event like Kumbh, absolutely great. I have been thinking to visit Kumbh for the last 16 years but never really happened till now. He then gone on to talk about yoga, his adventure into yoga, about Guruji, about Kumbh, his experiences in Kumbh, unforgettable moments with Guruji and many other things. We had some lighter moments with Rita where he was pulling her legs and vice versa. It was an incredible experience to be a part of that moment. He talked to us over one and half hours and he is never, never boring, neither in the class nor in person. He has an incredible charm and warmth that makes you very comfortable. I look forward to meet him again in future, anytime he visits India. We have recorded some of the discussions we had during that moment. You can watch it in the video linked below:


Highlights of the Event ‘Transformation of Asanas through Manouso Manos’: 

Organization of the Iyengar yoga Intensive by Manouso Manos at the backdrop of Kumbh Mela 2013 was an incredible idea. It was an unforgettable experience in many respects. Here are the few highlights of the event.

1. It was my first experience of learning under a very senior Iyengar Yoga teacher like Manouso. It is said, the first impression is the best impression and he inspired me from the very first minute of his class. He is simply a master class. I am a kind of person who reacts to challenges and he was challenging me all the time to do more and more. Every time he said, stretch your muscles more…more…and more and hard…harder and more harder… my muscles and nerves were reacting to his call and doing exactly what is he asking for. And I was moving the exact muscle he mentioned. It never happened before.  

2. It was a very beneficial workshop for me on various aspects. I always had serious issues with my groin muscles which are quite rigid because of which many of my standing asanas go bad. Surprisingly, Manouso taught exactly those asanas where I am really bad at and given lot of details to improve them. There are instances where I used to work too much on my groin and injured myself. Manouso said that Iyengar yoga is all about details and he has thousands of them and I am here to teach a few of them to transform your practice. Ever since I have been practicing on his details and it is really helpful.

3. I was suffering from stiff neck for a very long time. Practicing asanas from Geetaji’s DVD on back bends gave me 90% relief but the remaining 10% was troubling me whenever I do Sarvangasana. On the first day of the workshop in the evening, I was taken away by a surprise and rushed to Manouso after the class and sought his explanation. I used to get a clicking sound of the nerve around my neck every time I inhale deeply in Ujjayi Pranayama and amazingly it’s not there. Why do you think so? He smiled and said it’s the problem with your neck and shoulder traction and today you have learned how to access your lower scapular bones and rotate your shoulders back and down in the morning class and that’s it. He patted my back and walked away. One month after the camp my neck is recovered by 100% and I am really happy that I regained my Sarvangasana back.

4. I realized my wife Tulsi was little nervous and tensed before her first class but I was very confident on her as I have been teaching her for the last couple of years. Instead of advising her to do this and that, I wanted her to go and follow the instructions of Manouso with more attention. All the tension and nervousness was gone after the class as she walked out with a broad smile on her face. I knew why she was so happy. All her tension was about Sirsasana in the center and Manouso made her do successfully in the center. Another interesting incidence happened in the class. Our friend Sweta was very nervous to do Sirsasana. She tried to go up and dropped down with fear and was not willing to go up again. Manouso saw that and he immediately walked to her and said, ‘I am holding you now. Come on! Do it! He charged her up and made her do Sirsasana and she did it quite well. When she came down, he walked to her ear and said, ‘Sweetie you have done a great Sirsasana and balanced it well.’  It immediately reminded me about what I read about Manouso in Yoga journal. He awakens the lazy to work harder, challenges resistant egos to surrender and encourages the sick and injured to get better.

5. First day, before the class all the students were very quite. Each one was looking at the other and quietly doing his stretches and warm up. The next day scene was totally different. We were strangers no more. As I told you before Manouso is a great observer. He might have observed this silence and at the end of the class he asked to choose our own partner to do Sirsasana in the center and we looked out for partners and all of a sudden the silence broke down and the class began to roar.

Our Association with Iyengar Yoga Students and Teachers from USA and Delhi:

It was a great workshop in many respects. We have definitely learned some lessons on yoga from Manouso and his team. We made few good friends like Eric and his brother both Iyengar Yoga teachers from USA. Eric was very helpful during the classes in guiding and adjusting the postures and was very friendly outside the class. Other experienced Iyengar yoga teachers like Rita Manos, Marla Apt, Anara and few others were present there. Rita is a very sweet lady. She is quite, calm and always smiling. She is more like an Indian wife who takes care of her husband in all respects. This was our second meeting with Rita. It was a pleasure meeting her. Marla is a calm and reserved kind of person speaking only when required. I haven’t got much opportunity to talk to her therefore it may be too early to say anything about her. Anara who is presently teaching in Delhi is a very sweet, down to earth person. Apart from them we had a group of very interesting people like Tim and his wife, Mr. Woolf gang and his wife Sabena, Patrice from USA, Fanny, Bami, Sunainaji and others from Delhi. We had a great time together practicing yoga, sailing over the Rivers, having the taste of Indian Chai (tea) at the stall alongside the road, walking through the Akhara’s (Camps) of different saints spread all across the river of Ganga at the Kumbh Mela grounds. We always used to find one or the other group for all these activities. It was an unforgettable experience altogether.

My Experiences at Maha Kumbh:

Every Indian child grows up with the stories of Maha Kumbh and the great saints that gather at the banks of Ganga every 6 and 12 years. Even I grew up with stories of Naga Sadhus, Aghora’s, Tantriks and other saints from Himalayas gathering at the Ardha Kumbh and Maha Kumbh at Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. Though I am not a hardcore follower of these rituals of taking a holy bath in the rivers for cleansing the sins, I always had an unknown desire in some corner of my heart to visit Kumbh at least once in a lifetime and I never imagined that it is going to come this early in my life. It was really a learning experience at Kumbh. 

Before visiting Kumbh as said before I read many articles, heard and watched many stories about Kumbh. Out of which Yoganadna’s An Autobiography of a yogi and the experiences of Osho at Kumbh in his biography attracted me more. They appear more realistic to me. When Yogananda depicted the brighter side of Kumbh, Osho depicted both the brighter and darker sides of Kumbh. We were fortunate that our yoga workshop began 4 days before the beginning of Maha Kumbh as we got an opportunity to move around and acclimatize to the conditions of Prayag. In between and after the yoga classes we had ample time to move around and watch the proceedings. 

I used to wake up at 4 a.m. in the morning, walk out of my tent and sit before the fire to beat the cold with the security personnel and spend some time talking to them, seeking information about the places in and around Prayag. Around 5 a.m. I used to walk alongside the river for sometime. We met a very humble boatman called Ram Moorat who was a full-time electrician at the substation in Kumbh and a part-time boatman. He used to take a Brahmin family every day to the Triveni Sangam (Union) of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati for daily rituals just before the Sunrise. Fortunately we got an opportunity to get along with them. They were a group of 4 or 5 very generous people. They used to perform their rituals and we used to dip and play in the Sangam. This continued all the 4 days we stayed there in Prayag. It is learned that the family has been performing the ritual for more than 2 decades without any fail. On day one, we were little scared to step in the waters as it was a very cold morning and we were shivering with all the modern jackets on our body. Those women and men all above 50 years of age just walked in and dipped without any trouble. They encouraged us by saying that water will be warm early in the morning and therefore you don’t feel any cold. I gathered some courage, removed my clothes and walked into the waters and dipped in. The water was truly warm and I did not feel any shivering once I dipped in. Mohit then followed me and we had some fun together. This fun continued all the 4 days but with a difference. Every day the people from our camp increased as the world spread like a fire in the forests. There used to be an addition everyday. From second day Punditji’s son-in-law also joined our party and with his introduction the dipping has become a play. He used to scream ‘Jai Gange Maiya’ and rub mud all over my body and I used to do the same. One day 4 a small accident put some breaks to my enthusiasm. We were just dipping in the water as usual but the place was little different from usual this time. There was a clay soil underneath. When I dipped in I realized that my legs were digging into the mud. If I pull one leg out the other was digging further in. All of a sudden I realized that my right leg was dug up to the knees and I was unable to move my leg any more and it was digging further. I asked for a help and Punditji’s son-in-law walked in and pulled me forward and I screamed with pain as I heard a cracking sound in my knee. He then realized the seriousness of the matter and removed the mud around my leg with his hands and pulled my leg out. I still have the pain in my knee though it has reduced. But that incident did not derail my morale to visit the Sangam. I still did and enjoyed going to the Sangam.

There are two Sangam points of Ganga and Yamuna at the place where we stayed at. At the Sangam mentioned above, you can see more of Yamuna water and less Ganga water. Here you feel Yamuna River is putting brakes to the free flow of Ganga. On the other side which is probably at the middle of the rivers, you see more Ganga water and Less Yamuna. Here you feel that Ganga River is piercing into Yamuna as she looks helpless. The Sangam of these great rivers at both these places look magnificent. You can clearly see the brownish aggressive waters of Ganga colliding with the greenish stable and calm waters of Yamuna. It is a delight for the sight of any visitor there. It is an amazing and unforgettable experience to see the union of these two great Indian rivers which originate from Himalayas. If you see the Sangam from little far you find water bubbles forming due to the collision of two currents.

As far as the religious or spiritual aspects of these Rivers are concerned, I could not understand anything from it. It all depends on how you perceive. The perception of a Western man, the perception of Indian man, the perception of a Yogi, the perception of a saint, the perception of a non Hindu; they all differ as per their conditioning since their childhood. I can only say whatever is your perception you are definitely going to enjoy the Sangam. Whether you dip with a holy feeling in you or without any feeling it gives you a delightful experience to your heart and soul for sure. The same rule applies with the hidden Sarasvati as well. I have seen news on TV where people are scientifically trying to prove the existence of Sarasvati. What is the point in proving whether it exists or not? The truth is that it exists for some and doesn’t exist for some. It’s again how you perceive. I went to the Sangam without any prefixed perceptions and I enjoyed whatever I found there. It was an incredible experience that remains for the lifetime.

We had great time in Prayag every evening after the class. We used to row over other side of the River in a boat and walk around the streets of Kumbh for long, long hours till late at 9 p.m. There was a great action on the other side of the river. Kumbh Mela has a unique character. Just a gathering of above one crore people in itself is a rare experience. All the saints from different parts of the country gather here and they are not in small numbers and they are very colorful people. You cannot imagine so many unique sects. You cannot believe that such people exist on this Planet. It was amazing sight to see so many seekers at one platform. The Kumbh Mela was spread in such a vast area that we cannot imagine where it begins and ends. In those 4 days we could hardly see 10% of the Kumbh.

We came across different types of saints and sages in different avatars. Among all, the Naga Sadhus remained the center of attraction. Thousands of Naga Sadhus in Ash covered bare bodies were seen in Kumbh. Only Juna Akhara itself is believed to have 15000 Naga Sadhus. The tents are allotted to different Akhara’s in the Kumbh grounds according their status and ranks. We met some very interesting Naga Babas in Juna Akhara. My perception about Naga Babas had changed after my Kumbh Yatra. Earlier I used to believe that Naga Baba’s like to remain lonely and they don’t enjoy public interference but it was nothing as such. In fact, they were very friendly and warm. They whole heartedly allowed us to sit with them and enjoy the proceedings; they posed for our cameras and even conversed with us on various subjects. Some of the Naga babas have offered us the tea and one Baba Sri. Mahant Giriraj (whose video is linked below) shad offered a special drink called Kawa which was made of ginger and honey.

We have seen all kinds saints and sages in Kumbh. Some very strange, some were crazy and funny, some were enjoying their Hukkas, some were joyful, singing and dancing, some were busy in blessing people; some were busy in giving stills to photographers and many more. It was really a festival of its own kind. In many ways Kumbh has a flavor of its kind which is not found in any part of the world.

At the end of my stay in Allahabad for the Kumbh for 4 days, I understood that it is purely the festival of saints and sages. These people spend their entire life in doing their sadhana in the caves and mountains sacrificing worldly pleasures. They hardly get in contact with humans during their sadhana. The organization of Ardh Kumbh and Kumbh Mela every 6 years and 12 years successively provides an opportunity for these people to get in contact with one another as well as with the people. Throughout the event of Kumbh Mela they immerse themselves in enjoying every possible way out.

I noticed a very interesting fact in Kumbh. Before the tent of every baba or saint there was a banner with his name on it with a prefix “Brahma Gnani” the one who realized the Brahma. But unfortunately I never felt any one of them were really the realized ones. They looked to me more attention seekers than the realized people. I recently came across TV news saying some of the Akhara’s paraded fake Naga Sadhus on the eve of Makara Sankranti to show their strength. I don’t mean that all the saints present in Kumbh were fakes. It is highly possible that we could not have identified them or traced them since the Kumbh is spread across 5000 acres alongside the River. It is also possible that they might be acting crazy and fake to stay away from crowd. We have learned from local villagers that many sadhus stay away from crowd and do their sadhana and appear only during shahi snan and disappear.

There was lot to enjoy in Prayag apart from these saints and sages. We got an opportunity to sail over the beautiful Rivers of Ganga and Yamuna. During the course of our sailing, we met some interesting people. Some of them were thugs; some were real people, the local boatmen, police men, army men, chai walas etc. who were working their skins out to run the event successfully. We met few poor villagers who were working as sweepers, labors etc. They had the real fragrance of the soil of Allahabad. 

During our train journey to Allahabad, fellow passengers of Allahabad warned us to be careful from many fake sadhus and local thugs as they cheat the non-locals. We met some very good people and some bad ones as well. Since we reached before the start of the Kumbh Mela we already became familiar with things out there. We saw how people cheated the foreigners and non-locals. For me the pundits on the boats were more dangerous than the boatmen who were charging more to non-locals. That usually happens everywhere. The boatmen charge more for their hard work of rowing boats over water but those pundits were cheating innocent people in the name of God. Some pundits tried to trap us but we did not become their scapegoat. One man some how trapped our mates Sirisha and Sweta Rs.200 in the name of some pooja. I wanted to stop them but it was a matter of their faith, therefore I did not stop them. The pundit took the advantage of their innocence and started trapping them. He handed over a flower in our hands and asked us to chant some mantras along with him. We were sitting at the other corner of the boat taking shots of the River and I heard him asking 11 kilos of Ghee (which costs over Rs. 4000) as an offering to mother Ganga and he almost fooled our innocent Sirisha madam who was nodding her head. Listening that, Mohit and I busted with laughter and then shouted at the guy for trying to fool them. Somehow he ended up taking Rs. 100 each from Sweta and Sirisha.

We had few arguments with boatmen couple of times but that was fine. We were harsh to some greedy people and there were incidences where we bargained for less and paid more to some of the boatmen for their honesty and simplicity. Good and bad people are everywhere. The chances are obviously more at the huge gatherings. If you are a good speaker and a good observer you can survive anywhere and among anyone. 

We sailed over the Rivers of Ganga and Yamuna during the early hours of the day before Sunrise, the mid-day and the evening before Sunset and during the nights. The experience of sailing early in the morning around 5-30 a.m. and around 9 P.m. in the night was really incredible. Along with the world, the Rivers too take rest at the night. There is no activity of water in the river; the tides slow down, the flow reduces, there won’t be any noise around, darkness everywhere, one could hardly see an object 10 feet away. You don’t even know which way you are going. But the boatmen row you safely and exactly to the shore you asked for. I wonder they are the true yogis. The level of concentration they have and the route map of the river in their minds is mind blowing. They have to row the boat according to the flow of water and the direction of the water flow changes every time with the wind. It cannot be the same during day and night. These are the true ‘Gangaputras’ – the true sons of Ganga. Their world begins and ends with Ganga. They cook and eat their food and sleep on waters of Ganga on their boats at the shores. Fortunately we had a camera with us and we had some great shots sailing over the Rivers of Ganga and Yamuna in the dark night and unbelievable sight of Siberian birds flying, diving, dancing and playing with full freedom. Full credits to Mohit for some of those fantastic shots.

The happy ending of our Kumbh Yatra:

Our Yoga workshop ended on 13th of January 2013. The next day 14th January 2013 was a very auspicious day of Makara Sankranti. We wanted to end our tour with the holy bath at Sangam on that particular day. Therefore we booked our train tickets the same day back from Allahabad to Bhopal and from there to Hyderabad. 

I woke up around 4 a.m. and spent some time with the security people as usual sitting in front of the fire and then walked around the ghats of Yamuna with a towel and clothes to change. People already gathered at the ghats for bathing. There were hardly around 40 people spread across the ghat but very few were taking their dips in the water. I took off my clothes and walked into the waters of Yamuna and had my dip. It was an incredible feeling to take bath in the River at 5 a.m. Since very few people were there, I could spend around 20 peaceful minutes bathing in the River. Since the morning was foggy and dark I couldn’t see the other side of the River where Ganga flows but I could hear lot of activity from that side as Naga Sadhus and all other saints were taking bath, different varieties of musical beats and roars were heard. Then I walked across the shore to see weather the boatmen were allowed to go to the Sangam and fortunately they were taking people at the Triveni Sangam. I walked back to my tent and woke my fellow mates and took them to the Triveni Sangam for a bath again. This time it was around 6 a.m. and the crowd already started to gather. This time we went to the mid Sangam point where Ganga water is more. We had our baths and returned back filling few bottles of water to our houses as it is felt auspicious and divine. As the day became brighter with the Sunrise we could see the crowd at the other side of the River. It was a mind blowing site. The crowd was in millions. Thankfully we were not on the other side. It is because of the conditioning of the people that if you take bath in Ganga on certain auspicious days, all your sins will be washed out. I went to the Sangam after having my bath at Yamuna to find out the difference of bathing in Yamuna and the more sacred Triveni Sangam of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. I did not find any difference rather I enjoyed the peaceful bath for 20 minutes at Yamuna. 

We returned back to our tents changed our clothes and packed our luggage and decided to checkout around 11-30 a.m. to the station. Some of our group members went to attend the Yagna that was taking place at the Ashram. Sirisha wanted to have a holy dip in the sangam again with Swamiji and team after the Yagna as there was a divya muhrat, an auspicious time at 12:08 p.m. I was not at all willing to go but on the insistence of Mohit and Sirisha we went to the shores to board the boat. I became more reluctant to go when Swamiji started picking up the plastic pieces around the shores of River Yamuna to give the message to the people to keep the River clean. We finally boarded the boat and went to the Sangam amidst chants of Jai Gange, Jai Yamune! We got in more trouble when Swamiji and followers started picking up the rags at the Sangam as well. We hardly had four hours to our train and the railway station was around 7 kilometers which we need to go by walk with the entire luggage on our back. I already bathed twice so I decided to sit on the boat and watch them. It was already half an hour now and the rag picking wasn’t over. My friends now started feeling the heat and they stopped picking up the rags and quickly had their dip in the Sangam and stepped back onto the boat. Swamiji and team were yet to take bath and the boatman was not supposed to take us back until he finishes the bath. I let myself go on the mercy of Swamiji as I was prepared to miss the train yet again. I could clearly see the tension in the faces of my friends. They started requesting the boatman to take us to the shore but he was not willing to listen. Then Mr. Bami and a few others from Delhi batch helped us reached the shore by shouting at the boatman.

We got back to our tents and walked out the camp paying adieu to all the fellow mates and the organizers of the event. We were walking on and on with a hope of finding any sort of vehicle that takes us to the railway station; but the vehicles were stopped few kilometers away from the Kumbh Mela grounds by the Authorities. The tension was mounting as the time was ticking to the departure of our train. After walking 5 kilometers with those luggage’s we finally found an Auto Rickshaw to the station. He dropped us just 15 minutes before the departure. We finally walked all the way down to platform no.10 to board the train. To our surprise the train was totally vacant as many passengers failed to reach the station. Our train to Bhopal got delayed by two hours and we busted with laughs. Adding salt to our wound the train from Bhopal to Hyderabad delayed by 3 hours. We utilized this 3 hours in exploring few areas around the railway station of Bhopal where we found a very famous sweet house named Manoj Dairy. We had some yummy chole bhatura, somosa’s, kachori and delicious sweets for breakfast and lunch. We finally boarded the train at 12:40 p.m. and reached Hyderabad 3 hours late in the next morning. I would like to end up this blog with a Hindi proverb ‘der aye par durust aye’ which means we reached late but reached well. 

I hope you enjoy this Kumbh darshan through my vision and might help you in planning your safe journey to Kumbh. Keep watching the space for more updates.

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