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Moksha In Modern Times

By Pankaj Pachauri
28 August, 2003

It happens only in India! When the Parliament of the country and the 15 crore cold drink consuming population is exercised over charges that traces of pesticides were found in major Cola company products, millions merrily take a dip in Godavari river at Nasik to achieve Moksha. Godavari is one of the most polluted rivers in the country for which you need not send a sample to a lab. You can switch to any religious or news channel and the evidence is out there glaring from your TV screen. The swirling chocolate brown waters cleansing the sins of sadhus and simple janata alike.

To understand the importance of Kumbh, we need to delve into thousands of years of Hindu mythology. Only those who believe in reincarnation should head to the holy waters. Sanskrit scriptures underline the importance of a snan at the exact time when the constellation is set to provide Nirvana.

Atharva Ved says: "Ten thousand Vajpey Yagya, 25,000 Ashvamedha Yagya and thousands of circumbulation of the planet earth are equal to a snan at the Kumbh". Because if you do that, you will not be born as a human being in your next life. That dip rids you of every sin you have committed in your current life. In 1987, when I was covering the Kumbh at Haridwar, scores had died in a stampede trying to reach the holy waters at the exact time of the morning when heaven waited for them. The administration instituted an enquiry to investigate the mismanagement.

A year later, I tried to get the enquiry report and I was told matter-of-factly by the Additional Magistrate:" Why are you worried about the enquiry? Those who died there have gone to heaven. Even their relatives are not worried about the cause of their death. We will make better arrangements next time round". A modern welfare state hiding behind the flag of mythology, I thought. And did not do a follow up story.

We have travelled a long way since then and much water has flown in Ganga, Yamuna, Shipra and Godavari. Mandal Commission has changed the political landscape of the country. The number of Dalit MPs has increased three times in the Lok Sabha. Positive discrimination, a hallmark of any modern state, has changed the nature and composition of our administration. But at Kumbh, thousands of years of tradition rules the roost. A pecking order set by Manu that Brahmins take precedence on Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras is followed at the Kumbh rigorously even today. Different sects of sadhus get preferential treatment at the ghats. They get the first dip when the stars align to ensure Moksha. The minority of Dalit sadhus don't get the front seats at this spectacle of human faith.

They don't even tell you their surnames lest someone detects their low caste. And the champions of Dalit causes, even Mayawati, never raise a whimper about this system which blatantly discriminates on the basis of your caste. They can not, because once you believe in the ideology of Kumbh, you have to believe in the underlying dictum that birth in a certain caste is the result of your karma in your earlier life. No one questions the supremacy of this system because no commission has tabulated different castes and sub-castes here. In any case, if the Hindu pantheon is divided on the lines of faith, we will have a mathematical challenge of Himalayan nature on our hands. There are 33 crore gods and goddesses and 84 lakh different yonis (specie kinds) according to Hindu faith. So people simply try to wash their collective past and present lives in the holy waters.

Modern India is always wrestling with its ancient culture and beliefs. The latest import of any technology is readily used to establish an old social evil. Almost every small town in the country will have ultra sound machines for sex determination, though it will be difficult to find a well-equipped hospital even at district headquarters. The practice was banned by our Parliament after imbalances became stark in male-female ratios. At Kumbh, where a large number of devotees are women, the issues concerning them are hardly a focus of attention. Kumbh is a male bastion and the only special concession given to women are the separate bathing ghats slightly away from the prying eyes. Women, though revered as Durga and Laxmi in our culture, are not seen running a single akhara at the Kumbh -- in a country hotly debating one-third reservation for women in the legislature. But, what else do you expect from a system which has the toughest anti-drug legislation but no monitoring at acongregation of tens of millions where it is widely violated.

That is the beauty of modern India. Faith is supreme. It rules by ignoring rules. Have a nice Moksha.