By Yudhistir Krishna Das on 19 Feb 2010
Hundreds of ash-covered men marching into the river along with soulful chants of Vedic hymns. A multitude of people from varied backgrounds, jostling in and out of their tents. The sight of lamps and flowers being offered into the river in a spiritually-surcharged atmosphere. Such activity characterizes the largest spiritual gathering in the world: the Kumbha Mela.
Purna Kumbha Mela, held once in twelve years to commemorate the fall of nectar on Earth, attracts people from around the world. Haridwar, the ancient town located on the banks of Ganges and the current host for the Kumba Mela, is one of the four places where the nectar drops fell.
The magnetism of the Mela draws into its spiritual cauldron many monastics and saints who otherwise prefer to stay incognito. The akharas (different spiritual sects) stay in different camps at the Kumbha Mela wherein their religious discourses and spiritual talks and debates are one of the main attractions for visitors.
The ISKCON camp located in the Gauri Shankar area has been a major attraction at Kumbha Mela since its debut in 1977. The camp, with a capacity of 1,000 people and 17 specially-erected wooden cabins, will host a variety of cultural programs, dioramas, preaching booths, book distribution counters, spiritual discourses and kirtans.
The camp also hosts the biggest food hall at the Mela, serving 20,000 plates of prasadam (sanctified food) everyday to visitors.
On the day of first Royal Bath, a grand procession was taken out from the ISKCON camp and culminated with a bath in the Ganges. While some were awe-struck just looking at the procession, others joined in to dance along with the devotees.
The year also being the 500th anniversary of Lord Chaitanya’s entering the renounced order, ISKCON will be hosting various programs to celebrate the event. “In March 2010, we are hosting the World Spirituality Week that will bring together important spiritual leaders from around the world and spiritual leaders from various lineages together with ISKCON leaders to glorify Lord Chaitanya. Visitors to our camp will be greeted by a 60-foot statue of Lord Chaitanya.” said Srestha Dasa, Vice Presient of the Kumbha Mela Organizing team.