Had a good bath lately? I’m not referring to the luxurious spa-type baths that involve bubbles, essential oils, or bath salts. What I am asking is, have you had a good bath? One that doesn’t just get you clean on the outside, but cleans from the inside. I had the good fortune to experience this kind of bath on March 15th. That morning, I bathed in the Ganges river in Haridwar India, along with millions of other pilgrims who attended Kumbh Mela.
Kumbh Mela is a huge spiritual gathering that takes place every twelve years in Haridwar, as well as in four other Indian cities. Kumbh means Aquarius (it also means a pot or container) and Kumbh Mela is timed astrologically by Vedic astrologers so that it takes place each time Jupiter passes through Aquarius. It is the largest celebration or gathering of human beings on earth and it attracts millions of people. The main event at Kumbh mela is ritual bathing in the Ganges for the purpose of washing away one’s sins and purifying the soul.
Ok, I admit it. I am not a big “people person”. I’m not usually interested in big parties, festivals or anything else that involves huge groups of people. I am also not usually very interested in rituals. So why did I go to the largest ritual bath on earth? I think it has something to do with the obvious changes that are taking place on our planet. Astrologically, we are heading in a direction that will bring big changes in our world in the next fifteen years. Kumbh Mela might have been my way of reconnecting with the spiritual side of humanity at large. I really didn’t analyze it at the time. I just felt drawn to do it.
Historically, Kumbh Mela has been going on for thousands of years. It’s origin can be traced back to the Vedic creation myths given in the Puranas. There is a story about how the gods and demons had lost their power. In order to get it back they had to collaborate to churn the ocean. When they did this, eventually a kumbh (a pot) containing the nectar of immortality came out of the ocean. Then the gods and the demons started fighting over the nectar. This fight when on for twelve days and nights and eventually Lord Visnu took the nectar and flew away with it. In the process he spilled a few drops in four places in India. These places are supposedly the four cities where the Kumbh Melas takes place.
My own experience of Kumbh Mela was amazing. In spite of the fact that I had broken my toe two days earlier, on the morning of March 15, I got up at 4 a.m. and managed to hobble, painfully, for 2 miles to the main bathing area. There I joined thousands of pilgrims as we dowsed ourselves with Ganges water. Later I met with several well-known yogis, saints and sadhus, and had lively discussions about life, spirituality, and astrology. Did I succeed in washing away all my sins? I doubt it. The karmas of the past take much more than a dip in the Ganges to fully shed. But I do feel that the overall experience helped me gain more compassion for what an ancient Christian mystics called “the shipwreck of humanity”. In spite of the chaos, ignorance, and obvious pandemonium of our collective human condition, there is something quite wonderful about how human beings express and sometimes ritualize their inner yearning for the truth.
Mark Twain, who attended the Kumbh Mela in 1895 put it this way:
“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites”