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Maha Kumbh Yatra
March 9, 2013 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Bangalore based blogger ecophilo shares his experiences of attending this year's vast gathering of pilgrims at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad this year. Previous thread on the Kumbh Mela, what it is and why the Maha Kumbh only takes place every 144 years. Here's a snippet: It all began with Twitter. There were a few on my timeline who were tweeting about the Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 and a thought took root in my mind. Can I make it to the Kumbh Mela this year? After all, it was tempting to be part of the worlds oldest and largest human gathering - and it seemed within reach too. And The Kumbh Mela was not a place that had ever figured in my list of 'things to experience'.
posted by infini (29 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a word for what a middle class white guy in The Midwest feels when faced with history and culture that predates everything he knows? And the fascination and confusion it inspires? I mean even trying to read and silently pronounce Hindu and Buddhist names.

I get this with any eastern cultural traditions, as well as Indian, African, and anything not Western European in origin.

Provincialism seems to imply i think other is worse, i dont, at all. Maybe "Mental Umami"?
posted by DigDoug at 6:29 AM on March 9, 2013


Is there a word for what a middle class white guy in The Midwest feels when faced with history and culture that predates everything he knows?

Lovecraftian?
posted by Renoroc at 6:45 AM on March 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Have there been any studies into the environmental impact of, say, 100 million people splashing about in the river? Or is the river so dead and polluted anyway that it doesn't matter how much sediment gets kicked up?

It has to be significant.

The numbers are staggering. 150,000 treated for injuries. 40,000 in the lost and found on the first day.
I can't imagine going anywhere with more than a few hundred people, and even that would stress me out. I expect that's a first world issue. See also: the Haaj.

I thought thought this splashing about in the river was annual as well. Actually, before I hit send i looked it up and it's every three years in one of four locations according to wiki.

Here's another sad thing from the Wiki: In the vast crowds some elderly people, predominantly women, are abandoned by their families.
posted by Mezentian at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2013


The holiest day in a Kumbh Mela is said to be the Mauni Amaavsya snaan, which (if I got my calculations correct) will invariably coincide with the first day of the Chinese Year of the Snake. Coincidentally, the Mauni Amavasya snaan is often started by the Naga (snake) sadhus.

The missus has been to the ardh kumbh, but I have never been to any of these maha- snaan ("huge baths") gatherings. The real spirituality is being a part of these 32-million-strong group, isn't it, basically giving in your self over to something bigger and larger than our puny set of experiences and preferences.
posted by the cydonian at 7:48 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


will invariably coincide with the first day of the Chinese Year of the Snake.

Like John Snow, I know nothing, but would that have anything to do with the lunar calender?
posted by Mezentian at 7:52 AM on March 9, 2013


Heh, yeah, that most of the Indian (there's more than one, obviously) and the Chinese calendars are lunisolar (not lunar; lunisolar calendars have an extra leap month roughly every 2.5 years, while purely lunar calendars such as the Islamic calendar don't) certainly helps. The other bit is that the Chinese month starts on a new moon, while the western and the Deccani Hindu calendars end their months with a new moon.

The crucial bit here, though, is that the Kumbh Mela, the Chinese years and indeed, the Indian years (which is the ultimate reason why the Kumbh Mela does this 12-year cycle), follow a 12-year pattern, possibly inspired by the time Jupiter takes to travel around the Sun. So the Year of the Snake comes every 12 years, just as the Kumbh Mela does.
posted by the cydonian at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


possibly inspired by the time Jupiter takes to travel around the Sun.

I know Jupiter is a bright star, and it does odd things with the moon and other stars that appear to make it notable, but does it stand out that much that primitive peoples would have based their calenders around it?
posted by Mezentian at 8:37 AM on March 9, 2013


take me to the river
posted by pandrus at 8:37 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


primitive peoples

Let's start over, mezentian, we're talking about China and India. Even 3000 years ago, they weren't primitive in their astronomy nor their science. If anything, I sometimes wonder if we're the primitives in their eyes...
posted by infini at 8:50 AM on March 9, 2013


Yes, I was pondering my use of that term.
"Ancient civilizations" might have been a better one to use.
posted by Mezentian at 8:52 AM on March 9, 2013


I know Jupiter is a bright star, and it does odd things with the moon and other stars that appear to make it notable, but does it stand out that much that primitive peoples would have based their calenders around it?

The moon is what the calendar is based on here. (The sun is what is used in other parts of India, but that's a different tale) Jupiter is what sets of years are based on. Other primitive people elsewhere used a set of seven celestial bodies visible to their naked eye to wrap their work-schedules around. It's not that extra-ordinary.
posted by the cydonian at 9:20 AM on March 9, 2013


The making of a mahant: a journey through the Kumbh Mela festival
This weekend, Hinduism’s greatest gathering draws to a close. James Mallinson, a Sanskrit scholar, and his friend, the actor Dominic West, joined the millions who converged to bathe in the Ganges

reads like its still the 60s, tantric sex! yogis! ashes! tsk FT
posted by infini at 9:21 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other primitive people elsewhere used a set of seven celestial bodies visible to their naked eye to wrap their work-schedules around

If it weren't for my complete awful maths ability I'd have made a great astronomer.

I suppose when I look up at the sky I see the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper, the moon and Venus, and Sirius, and I get overwhelmed by the fact I can see so many starts and navigate my way despite the light pollution, which I guess makes a bit of a difference. I can still remember the first time I saw the Milky Way straight. My god, so many stars.

But I can program a VCR. So, there's that.

, and his friend, the actor Dominic West,

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace's Palace Guard among other roles.
posted by Mezentian at 9:32 AM on March 9, 2013


Here are a few pictures and another blog from an Indian perspective. Also mapping the Mela.
posted by adamvasco at 10:32 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good lord! That political website... ironic that its also the first blogger's favourite. The Cydonian, what do you think of this niticentral stuff? Have heard nobody knows who the founder is and its supposed to based in the US...
posted by infini at 10:44 AM on March 9, 2013


Now which lord would that be infini? and who is Niti Central ( I only posted for thr the pics).
posted by adamvasco at 11:15 AM on March 9, 2013


I had made this short video when I had visited on Mauni Amavasya day on Feb 10th. An estimated 30 million people took bath that day. The phrase a sea of humanity took a whole new meaning that day!
posted by manny_calavera at 11:22 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


niti (not capitalized) means principles or rules or originally, political ethics (morality is often offered as a definition in sanskrit dictionaries) and the word used for government as in raj niti - the ruling policy or ideology = "politics".

niticentral is a political site that's come out of nowhere and shot to popularity in the social media I"m seeing. Yet friends of mine in India who are more moderate in their views tend to view it with skepticism as its quite inflammatory and divisive at times, hence my use of the ejaculation "good lord" - no particular lord since its all omniscient anyway ;p "By Jove" could have replaced it as easily ...
posted by infini at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would love to hear more about Niti Central (they seem to capitalize it) and the controversy around it. My ignoramus's view after taking a quick look at it is that it's trying to put a more up-to-date spin on old BJP hobby horses, but my grasp of the nuances of Indian politics is pretty poor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on March 9, 2013


I know Jupiter is a bright star, and it does odd things with the moon and other stars that appear to make it notable, but does it stand out that much that primitive peoples would have based their calenders around it?

We're talking about the planet prominent enough in the night sky that the greeks and romans associated the head of their pantheon with it?

When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of −2.94, making it on average the third-brightest object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus. (Mars can briefly match Jupiter's brightness at certain points in its orbit.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter

posted by sebastienbailard at 6:15 PM on March 9, 2013


Sidhedevil, I acknowledge I have an inexplicable aversion to the website's name and am possibly unfairly biased.

fwiw, to quote most recent email response:

Rajesh Jain is the founder of Niticentral...who lives in Mumbai...Colaba to be exact..and the idea of the site is to give a 'right' or 'conservative' perspective of India which is generally missing from our left liberal media
posted by infini at 7:57 PM on March 9, 2013


Hey infini, here's another site you can feel even less ambivalent about - centreright.in. There seem to be a bunch of these popping up recently.

One thing they all have in common is an unwillingness to precisely define what "right", "conservative" or "centre-right" means in the Indian context. I can make a few guesses why.
posted by vanar sena at 10:40 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, I am the blogger that was linked to above, and even though the mela ends today, will be happy to answer questions of my experience!
posted by ecophilo at 1:03 AM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Welcome!

I've been curious about the crowds and also whether you were in a mixed gender group or just males i.e. what was it like in this context for women in this kind of a crowd, given what we've been reading about safety of women in India these days? Especially in the North?
posted by infini at 4:02 AM on March 10, 2013


Interesting that you ask this...never occurred to me at all...because at no place is the crowd segregated by gender...at no place...and yet it goes on as smoothly without any fuss.

The crowds on the shahi snan days and closer to them are big...huge...the other days towards the end, the crowd is there but not much...people keep coming and going..day trippers etc...so we barely felt the crowd
posted by ecophilo at 6:13 AM on March 10, 2013


The Varanasi, Lucknow, Allahabad area is where much of my extended families are from so I was curious since Uttar Pradesh has one of the worst reputations for women's safety. Was your own travel group mixed? Did the women feel safe in the bheed bharakka (the maaraa maari as they say)?
posted by infini at 6:37 AM on March 10, 2013


If it weren't for my complete awful maths ability I'd have made a great astronomer.


Sorry, should have been more clear. :)

The reason we have a seven day week in the Greco-Chaldean tradition (and it is an import elsewhere, even to India and China; you can consistently blow the minds off right wingers in India with this, but the religious calendars followed now most decidedly are not the ones followed for most of India's history) is because there are seven celestial bodies that are clearly consistently visible to the naked eye, mainly the sun, moon and the five planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. My point is that Jupiter is quite central to even other astronomical traditions.

Light pollution is a problem sure, but for people in the tropics wanting to check the stars out, I recommend looking for Orion the Hunter in clear skies. The constellation is easy to look for, in that the stars are bright and its path is roughly east to west. Of course, to be absolutely Vedic about it, the asterism to look for is the Sapta Rishi Mandal (Ursa Major/ Great Bear/ Big Dipper / The Plough), which appears at the magnetic North. It is arguably one of the most significant in the Vedic/ Puranic pantheons, and not just for its consistency in position (and hence, use in navigation); the stars are supposed to be the seven patriarchs of the Vedic civilization, newly married couples try to look for the Arundati star, the matriarch, so to say, of the Vedic civilization.
posted by the cydonian at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first I've heard of niticentral or centreright.in, so I'll need a bit of time to get angry about them :), but here's a very good piece on what constitutes the (Hindu) right in India:
The man who defined the modern Right in India was The Times of India editor Girilal Jain. He provided the intellectual justification for the Babri Masjid’s vandals. In his book The Hindu Phenomenon, he explains violence against Muslims as coming from “the reintroduction of the Kshatriya element in the urban Hindu’s personality”, adding that “In my view, the second phase of the freedom struggle, the struggle to regain its Hindu identity, will involve a reconstitution of the fragmented Hindu personality along lines different from the pursued so far, so that the missing Kshatriya constituent of the old Hindu personality is restored.”

He means Hindus must become more aggressive with Indian Muslims.

And so here it is that we arrive at last at the true meaning of Right.

It means a Hindu who dislikes Muslims. All the rest of it can be compromised and has been, as we have seen, because it is unimportant. The core of the BJP and the Right is the desire to put Muslims in their place.
My politics have become rather easy lately; with the exit of Arun Shourie, the Sangh parivar have even fewer thoughtful people among their midst. So there's no need to shed any tears for any apparent reduction in right-wing pieces in Indian media; I'm sure the parties can more than make up for it with three dimensional katputli (puppet shows), as they did during the Gujarat elections.

There is also a fair amount of Tory/Andrew Sullivan-isque right of center perspectives at Pragati. I don't fully agree with these guys most of the time, but I've personally interacted, on Twitter, email and in person, with people there; while I do think they can be wrong, they are thoughtful and at least hold such constitutional values as free speech and religion as sacrosanct, which the rest of the jokers have no problem abrogating.
posted by the cydonian at 8:59 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you've hit the nail on the button for my distaste - I grew up in an international (albeit expat) environment, that too in a muslim majority country (Malaysia) and have simply never been brought up to consider someone "Other" on basis of their personal belief systems.
posted by infini at 10:14 PM on March 10, 2013


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