“ Sagar Island / Country: India / Region: Asia / Gangasagar pilgrimage location „
Strictly speaking I'm God-fearing but not a religious man in that sense, Hindu religion has a constellation of 33 crores i.e 330 million Gods and Goddesses, that probably is enough to give you an idea of the enormity and vastness of the religion. It is as old as Harappa and Mahenjodoro. It is highly likely that a country like India whose population is the second highest having most of it distributed in villages will have massive gathering in religious mela or fair. Hindus are mostly permissive in their religious beliefs and philosophy.
The popularity and greatness of the Ganga Sagar mela can be appreciated from the single fact that it is attended by more than a million of pilgrims from all nook and corners of the country and beyond, whose languages differ, have different cultural background and having financial status of great variation. The facilities that exist in this fair are same for every body irrespective of their social and financial stature. You will be surprised to know that no particular authority has the responsibility of conducting the mela, so to attend Ganga Sagar Mela no invitation is issued and neither one is required, it is a spontaneous effort to be bereft of all your sins by having a dip in the holy confluence of the the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal.
The day "Makar Sankranti" or the last day of the month of Paus (December).is when the Ganga Sagar Mela is held. I think it will be pertinent to elaborate how the months relate to English ones:
2. Jaishtha (May-June)
3. Assada (June-July)
4. Srabbon (July-August)
5. Bhadro (August-September)
6. Ashwin (September-October)
7. Kartik (Otober-November)
8. Aghrawan (November-December)
9. Paush (December January)
10. Maagh (January-February)
11. Falgun (February-March)
12. Chaitra (March-April)
India is a tropical country the winter here more or less starts from November, reaches its peak in late December and it's good bye to winter by the middle of January. Sagar Mela falls when the intensity of cold at the venue of the Sagar Mela, the Sagar Island is at its peak (8 to 9.5 degrees)
The journey is tough, tiring and difficult. Devotees, pilgrims and common people come first to Calcutta, now Kolkata, in packed buses and trains from all parts of the country and I have found no dearth of foreign tourist armed with sophisticated cameras and video equipments. Yes of course you can make private journey in a luxurious car and carry a comfortable tent, but that's all. Once you reach Sagar Islands, there are no hotels, in fact no place of luxury. You have to spend the night underneath the open sky in more or less freezing cold more so because of the strong breeze that sweeps across the tenements.
From Kolkata you got take another long and arduous journey to ferry_ ghats_ or jetty in the Sunderbans, this the Harwood Point till this point you can have comfortable journey (as I said you can have a private vehicles). Here all the buses, cars and other vehicles are garaged. Now begins the main and most difficult part of the journey, the last leg in the form of traversing the tidal river stretching over miles followed by an equally crowded and tiresome bus journey of at least 30 km depending on the location of the embarkation point.
As I have said the journey is very difficult and tiresome but the best part of it is that you won't feel it, such is the enthusiasm, camaraderie and the spirit. In fact the religious fervor of not only the pilgrims but those going for the heck of it, it is just simple fun, enjoyment and suspense what is coming next. The deafening sounds of the motors of the ferries and buses get immersed in the din raised by the pilgrims chanting '"Kapil Muni ki jai (Hail Kapil Muni),' Saab teertha baar baar, ganga sagar ek baar (blessings you get by visiting Ganga Sagar once surpluses several pilgrimage to other pilgrim's place). I was amazed by not only the magnitude of visitors but also by these pilgrims unbounded yearning for blessing. Hunched old men and women, babies tied on their back, all these are common sights. What is bewildering is that a death at this blessed place is joy for its family, the common saying after the death here is "The guy was one the most pious man since he was lucky enough to breath his last here" and mind you there is not shred of tears, the near and dear ones are happy and proud.
Never think after all this arduous journey you will land up in a cozy and comfortable place. The destination is sandy a beach where numerous temporary 'akahars' (tent) are spread all over. Of course you can carry your own tent but it will be very difficult to find a place to put it up.
It is a mela (fair) as much as it is a funfair, people marching to the sound of bells, blowing conch-shells (Shaank, is the local name). Loud speakers play strains of devotional songs at a pitch which is level higher than soothing decibels. I had no end to my amazement as I discovered the array of temporary shops selling foodstuff, kitchen utensils, vermillion, rudraksha, colorful beads and so on. You even get sophisticated remote controlled toys here too.
There no security checks, no gate to whisk you and there is nobody to ask your identity, this is a pilgrims place. No body will dear a Terror attack, not even al queda because they are protected by the almighty.
The biggest attraction are the Naga Sadhus the naked ascetics, just think in this freezing cold they don't have a string on their body except they are powdered with ashes and smoking ganja (cannabis) relentlessly. As if they were enjoying a chillum of ganja sitting naked under the open sky enjoying the music of the vast ocean. Like enjoying Pink Floyd live!
AT LAST THE DIP
As these merriment continues the night is pregnant with the auspicious moment, every body waits with bated breath as it descends with the precise hour to take the holy dip. The high tide during this period at night drives the pilgrims back and back and back. The biting cold, suffocation of such massive gathering means nothing. We are full of confidence and have fire in our eyes. Never mind the bonfire lit to kick the cold out but it is still there but not a deterrent to us.
It seems even after all this God is still delving into our devotion, the night is amazingly short and the stars, merciful taking time to fade. The time of reckoning arrives as the priest announces the holy time, the whole crowd surges forward taking the tide head-on and plunging in to the sea chanting "Kapil Muni Ki Jai" and immediately all are charged with achieving and acquiring sanctification.
Recuperating from the dip we had to take, shivering, a slow and satisfying walk of about a kilometer leading to the blindingly and beautifully lit Kapil Muni's temple and offered our prayer with the usual coconuts, sweets, vermillion, flowers and money as "Pronamee" (I thought it s the money thanking Kapil Muni for making it a safe journey)"to the ancient sage.
The pilgrims are still busy even late into the morning performing "godaan" when a calf is symbolically presented to the priest by the devotee. "Moksha" (transcendence) is attained by symbolic crossing of the river of blood "Baitarani". It is interesting to observe the people, clutching the tail of a cow and wading through a puddle a few paces. Many people shave their heads and perform the last rites of departed relatives.
As an anecdote I must add after the dip, men or women, you have to change your cloth right in the middle of the crowd taking the dip. Young or old no body seems to bother and really by custom no body dares peep at a young girl changing to scanty clothing from a scantier one.
The journey back is similar but with a heavy heart filled with blissful joy.
According to Hindu mythology, joining the sea, The Ganga flowed through the mortal remains of 60,000 sons of King Sagar and thereby liberating their souls for ever. The sons of King Sagar showed the daring to stop the holly horse carrying the blessings of Lord Indra for his Ashwamedha Yogna. The captured and tied it near Kapil Muni's ashram and it was the Muni who condoned them. This is the legend which attracts millions to this remote island in West Bengal at its southern corner.
Without the presence of "Naga Sadhus" (naked ascetics) the mela is incomplete. They are the main attraction to all the visitors especially to the foreigners with cameras.
Although I have seen numerous temporary shrines of Hindu deities which also attracts lots of devotes for paying their homage, the temple of Kapil Muni is the focal point.
The sea is so erosive here, The Kapil Muni's ashram that we visited is not the real one. The ashram where Kapil Muni meditated has been engulfed by it millions of years ago and not only that the temples that followed were also swallowed by the sea.
Gangasagar Mela or also called Gangasagar Fair is the largest mela in West Bengal and the fair is held in the place where the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal form a connection together. Thus the name called Gangasagar Mela came into picture. It's in fact the largest Mela or fair in India to be held annually. Kumbha Mela is the largest fair but it is a quarterly affair.
Only recently there has been a surge of security people here.
Thanks for reading
© roktimdutta, January, 2010
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