by Sheynapurna (Sandy) Peace
The Himalayan Institute campus is so near that it brought the actual Mela to us without having to physically go. The energy of the Mela was there, strong and intense even our secluded area was calm and serene. Still, on the first day most of us walked to the Mela grounds. Not being a primary “bathing day,” the crowd estimate was only 15 million people. The Mela (fair) grounds are vast, covering about 20 square miles. Tidy areas of tents house people, cows, goats, malas (bead necklaces), art work, saris, chai and huge tents where Swamis gave talks and thousands of people chanted. Long avenues of sellers hawk their goods including include beans, rice, other grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, flowers, nuts, all sorts of spiritual accessories, fans and piles of different colors of powdered kumkum.
Signs point to the Sangham, the point where the rivers meet and where thousands or even millions make their way to take a holy dip. Holy men are everywhere, holy women, too. Sadhus give blessings, and while some want money in return, others are there to bless. Their Shakti is so profound that even I can feel it. I am humbled and near to tears. As Kamala Michelle Gross says, “Walking among the millions of people at the Mela was profoundly peaceful, yet full of sights, sounds and vibrations that are still coursing through me. It is an experience that not only lives in memory but through my entire being.”
The Himalayan Institute offered many activities. There were optional walks to temples, walks to the Mela (guided and unguided), walks to villages where cows and water buffalo live in the front yard or even in the ‘garage’, time to do asana, meditate and of course the time to do bucket laundry and take bucket baths. Time to listen to the choruses of bird song and to watch people walk the road to the Mela, the women in bright and beautiful saris, many carrying burdens easily upon their heads.
And time to eat. We were awakened daily for 5:30 am chai, prayers followed at 6:00 in the Sacred Grove, then breakfast at 8:30. As Kusuma (Karobi) Sachs shared, “Amidst all the Mela events, one thing that stood out for everyone was what we put in our bellies: the food. Luckily we did not have to worry about the safety of the food, being cooked by western standards. But we all found out something about Indian culture, true of all cultures of those less fortunate than us: eating rice, potatoes and wheat chapatis is a staple at each meal. Many Westerners balked at the offerings of both rice and potato dishes which appeared so often but, in India, potatoes are considered a vegetable. We were being fed local, fresh, organic vegetables throughout our stay. In much of India, obesity is not the problem; lack of food is, so eating 3 carbohydrates in one meal is a feast! Personally I love potatoes and was thrilled at their abundance everyday!” We enjoyed evening chai at 4:00 and dinner at 6:30. Plus we chanted the Guru Gita with Swami Nirmalananda each morning at 7:00 and had satsang with Swamiji at 4:15, with our chai. This was a marvelous opportunity to integrate our experiences, Swamiji being the greatest of teachers and attracting several of the Himalayan Institute guests as well as ourselves.
To me, one of the best times was night. Our campus has silent time from 10 pm – 8 am but it was silent only on our grounds. Upriver at the Mela came joyous continuous chanting. All night long the voices of thousands roared down the river. One night I heard chants to Hanuman, another night to Krishna and another the sounds of Om Namah Shivaya. My earplugs kept this muted but it was never quiet, except the night of the thunderstorm when all we heard was thunder and rain. The next day it all returned: the chanting, the bells, the drums, the conchs, the joyous sounds of millions of people worshipping God in song.
This is what Kumbha Mela is really about. Millions coming for blessings, for love of God. The energy of this place, the rivers, the people, have an indelible effect. I wrote in my journal, “…dropped into meditation fully conscious. Could hear every sound and yet I was also deep in the swirling mandala of All-That-Is. I am the Ganga and the molecules. My energy body vibrates deeply. I am Everything! Vibrating consciousness and yet still here.”
GANGA: The River Runs Through Me
by Jyoti Yacobi
A river runs through me
She is the Ganga, Kundalini, the Milky Way
I am all That
I pour my tears, my pain and sorrow
Into Her vastness
She takes me and holds me in Her lap
She carries me like a new born child
With great love and a gentle touch
She is the bridge that carries me through the river,
The ocean of not-knowing
To the shore of the knowing of my own Self
She is the Life that runs through my being
She is the One and Only
She is the One I Am
I pour my soul into Her
I lean into the flow of the sound
That emerges from beyond the mind
I am the beginning and the end
I am all that Is
I am That