The image of Kumbh Mela to me was one of the undisciplined crowds, strange-looking aesthetics, and a polluted river Ganga.
The Kumbh Mela in my mind while growing up was a place where most people got lost in the expanse of the crowd. In fact, Bollywood popularised this perception with stories revolving around relatives in particular brothers getting lost at the Kumbh Mela.
While I had a poor perception of the Kumbh Mela, I was drawn to the spirituality of Haridwar and Rishikesh but most importantly at a chance to bathe in the Holy Waters of the river Ganga.
So when my brothers from different mothers Yashwant Deshmukh and Sameer Sharma inquired with me if I would join them on their journey to the Kumbh Mela and Rishikesh, I could not resist for two reason their company and the fact that I going to the spiritual places of Kumbh Mela and Rishikesh with my two brothers that I feel so spirituality connected too. So overnight we decided that I would join them on their spiritual sojourn.
I am a Christian by faith because that’s the label the world puts on me, I prefer to consider myself to be a Sanathan Dharma follower and I found my pathway for spirituality through my Christian faith. Religion to me is just a pathway that brings you to the door of spirituality, when you open the door of spirituality, you will understand that God is within you and around you. God is not limited to dogma or to a belief.
Going to Haridwar and Rishikesh was an act of trying to understand the religious culture of my people and experiencing their faith and spirituality attached to the Kumbh Mela, Rishikesh, and most of all river Ganga – Maa Ganga. I did not go as a tourist but as a seeker.
I was mesmerized when I entered Haridwar. It was not crowded with unruly people but organized and clean. People were coming to Haridwar with faith and devotion. They were not rich or poor, they were not perfect or imperfect, they were not beautiful or ugly. They were Bhakts with immense love and belief. Everyone was equal in the eyes of Maa Ganga.
We walked around the Kumbh Mela before deciding to take in bath in the river Ganga. People were following all the necessary COVID-19 protocols, people were wearing masks and there were sanitizer dispensers all over the Kumbh Mela. Credit must go to the Uttarakhand Government and Namami Gange for the planning and execution of the Kumbh Mela. It was spectacular. It was Swacch.
Entering the river Ganga with its powerful rapids was a rush of adrenaline because the water was quite cold. Nevertheless, I plunged into the waters while holding on to chains near the bank railings, so that I do not drift into the river. The feel of the cold water of river Ganga was exhilarating. It was revitalizing and stirred in me a revival. I continued to immerse myself in the water. With each immersion in the river Ganga, I will felt a surge of energy through my body. I was being reborn with new energy in my life. It was a surreal experience.
I came out of the water and I was blessed with a Tripundra Tilak. It is a reminder of the spiritual aims of life, the truth that body and material things shall someday perish, and that salvation is a worthy goal.
From there we proceeded to Rishikesh. We were staying at the Yog Niketan resort. We talk rooms that opened up onto the Ghats on the banks of the river Ganga. The view was spectacular in its simplicity and aura. The feeling was one of serenity and comfort. It was saying to me that no matter what your trials in life are or will be; it will be lost in this place and you will go back home calm and recharged with new energy
I witnessed the Aarti on the banks of river Ganga at Rishikesh for the first time. It was not only magical but it had so much depth in the enactment. It was poetry in motion. It was spiritual.
Some Christians reacted to my picture of sporting a Tripundra Tilak and witnessed the Aarti. One pastor even went to extent of telling me that my generations will be cursed for going to Haridwar and Rishikesh and participating in Hindu beliefs. I am not angry with their views of me. I would not even blink an eyelid if the Catholic Church branded me as a heretic. I believe in the teaching taught by Jesus and that is based on the simple truth of ‘Loving God with all your heart and all your soul’, and ‘loving your neighbor as yourself.’ It simply means loving God in you and around you. That to me is Sanatan Dharma.
India must be about Indians who are culturally Hindus. That is our roots. Even our Churches must be culturally attuned to our roots. An Indian-Christian cannot mock or consider himself superior to an Indian-Hindu because the Vatican or some Evangelical preacher has said so quoting so vague text in the Bible. We are brothers and sisters of the Bharat Mata. Religion divides, spirituality unites.
I respect the beliefs of my ancestors and my Hindu sisters and brothers. I respect it because it is spiritually and culturally connected to my roots in India. I am an Indian first before I am a Christian. I am a Hindu because of my Vedic roots and because I come from the land known as Hindustan.
The experience at Rishikesh opened my eyes to the beauty of our Vedic culture. It opened my eyes to the simplicity of our Sanatan Dharma beliefs. I looked all around and witnessed the beautiful hand of Shakti in the creation. The power of the Sacred Feminine through Maa Ganga.
It is the experience that will be forever etched in my soul. It was spiritual. It was Indic.
Thank you Maa Ganga for welcoming me into your arms.