Following Srila Prabhupada’s example, ISKCON devotees participated in the Ardha Kumbha Mela at Prayagraj (Allahabad) from January 15th to February 12th, bringing the Holy Name, Prabhupada’s books and prasadam with them.
Kumbha Mela is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith in the world, and drew about 120 million pilgrims – nearly double the population of the UK or France – this year.
Kumbha Mela takes place four times within a twelve-year period, rotating between four of the most holy places in India -- on the banks of the Godavari river in Nashik (Maharashtra), the Shipra river in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), the Ganges in Haridwar (Uttarakhand), and confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati in Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh).
The tent city at Kumbha Mela
Many sadhus from different traditions attend to bathe in the sacred rivers – which is believed to give liberation from the cycle of birth and death – as well as to associate with each other and make organizational decisions. Pilgrims come to see and hear from the sadhus, hoping to gain spiritual progress.
Srila Prabhupada himself attended the Ardha Kumbha Mela with his disciples in 1971, and then the Purna Kumbha Mela in 1977, to bring the message of bhakti, or devotional service.
For many years ISKCON devotees today have been participating in the Mela in his footsteps. This year some three thousand devotees from India and around the world attended, including Gopal Krishna Goswami, Lokanath Swami and Radhanath Swami.
ISKCON Camp organizer Sanak Sanatana Das drives a bullock cart carrying Gaura Nitai and Srila Prabhupada
At Kumbha Mela, thirteen “Akharas” each house followers of similar religious ideologies. In 2004, ISKCON was recognized as a bona fide member of the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya within the Vaishnava Akhara, with Lokanath Swami designated as the ISKCON Mahant, or head priest.
This year, as always, ISKCON had its large own camp at Kumbha Mela within the sprawling tent city of eighty-seven colonies, each of which host about 2,000 pilgrims.
People could enter the ISKCON Camp through a gate featuring huge paintings of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda. Inside, the camp included book stalls, dioramas, a large kitchen and prasadam hall, offices, premium and dormitory accommodation, and a pandal where spiritual programs were held daily.
Sanak Sanatana Das and other devotees perform yajna at Kumbha Mela
During the Mela, ISKCON devotees cooked and served over 80,000 full prasadam meals to sadhus and pilgrims, cooked with ghee and comprised of rice, dahl, subji, chapati, and a sweet.
Every afternoon, they took a bullock cart carrying deities of Sri-Sri-Gaura-Nitai and a murti of Srila Prabhupada out into the Mela, to perform Harinama Sankirtan and mass book distribution.
In the process, they distributed 250,000 of Srila Prabhupada’s books, including 150,000 Bhagavad-gitas.
ISKCON devotees perform Harinama Sankirtana at Kumbha Mela
With their bullock cart, devotees also entered each of the three main shahi snaan (royal bathing) processions of sadhus at the Mela, while chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
“The three bathing days are Makara Sakranti on January 15th, Mauni Amavasya on February 4th, and Vasant Panchami on February 10th,” says ISKCON camp organizer Sanak Sanatana Das. “We participated in all, and were always appreciated.”[ ganges ] [ kumbha-mela ] [ pilgrimage ] [ prasadam ] [ sarasvati ] [ yamuna ]