In Modern Times
By Pankaj Pachauri
28 August, 2003
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
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.