Vanity thought #740. Kumbha Mela

The other day I finally found time to watch BBC’s documentary on Kumbha Mela. I don’t know why I felt I had to see it, probably because I’ve never been there and it’s probably the most important Vedic religious gathering in the world. I think I still have this complex of following “Hinduism”, so I watched it from the perspective of “it should be on my bucket list”.

From that POV I was disappointed.

BBC presented Kumbha Mela in a predictable format – they filmed all the necessary angles, didn’t forget curiosities, had “experts” comments on the proceedings, and they followed several UK “pilgrims” to record their personal experiences. Nearly all of it sucked.

First of all, they approached it as if, and it slipped into their narrative, it’s a mythological event. Hundred million Hindus can’t be right, there’s no God or gods, there’s no nectar to spill, and they are just dumb idiots who believe in most outrageous things.

Your average BBC watcher can sleep safe, the “auntie” has proven once again that our faith in rationality is supreme. It wasn’t as bad as “look at these uncivilized natives” at every step but the overall attitude was definitely there, it’s just it’s not politically correct to call them names to their faces anymore.

People they have chosen to follow through to record their personal experiences were disappointing, too. The most “advanced” of those was living in some guru’s ashram in India for months and I watched in disbelief how she intensely meditated on a giant lingam as if her third eye was just about to pop out. It’s as if spirituality is reduced to some induced waves of ecstasy, a legitimate LSD replacement or something.

A couple of others were on a trip to reconnect with their Hindu roots. Nice enough women doing the right thing for their situation but it’s also obvious they have not a clue of what religion is all about, total neophytes.

There was also a dude who came following his guru who he saw as an embodiment of bhakti or something. Technically speaking he was head and shoulders above all others, spiritually wise, but appeared a bit cultish and, by our standards, his guru is some kind of modern day mayavadi.

Why am I so critical of them? Because none of them demonstrated a valid reason for me to go to Kumbh myself.

The video also showed some “sadhus” providing insight into the community, especially one mayavadi of western extraction. We’ve been told who these sadhus are, what are their features, why we should seek their blessings and so on. This was accompanied with plenty of shots of naked men smeared in ashes, one was rolling his penis on a stick, and there was one contortionist, too, they call them yogis there.

I don’t want to be caught dead with any of these people, only one of them appeared to be honest, a former soldier, who said being sadhu is his way of keeping serving the society, nothing about any personal aggrandizement of being such an elevated soul. The rest of them were milking their sadhuness in full. Most of those who were on camera were probably waiting for Kumbh to display their genitals in public, especially on TV.

During the whole show, almost an hour, there wasn’t a single devotee there, expect Shaunaka Rishi who, as an expert from Oxford university, got to say a couple of sentences about essential purity of the Ganges. One other expert looked like he was studying Hinduism the way scientists study monkeys, and another woman looked like she was dragged from a tarot reading parlor.

The real stars were ordinary people who walked past the camera and did their oblations as if BBC didn’t exist. They were doing following their dharma and it’s always a pleasure to see people honestly performing their religious duties. That was the redeeming quality of the whole film – a chance to see devotion and dedication quietly and unassumingly going on in the background while the “heroes” looked more like clueless tourists.

So, what about me? Am I going to go to Kumbh Mela before I die? I’m afraid not. It’s an impressive holiday, the largest gathering of people in one place, as they say, but the whole drama doesn’t come even close to hearing just one name of Krishna, and I mumble sixteen rounds a day of those. There’s nothing at Kumbh that would help me more than honestly trying to improve my chanting.

I’m all for dips in Ganges as a tribute to the water that washed lotus feet of Lord Vishnu but the nectar of immortality they can keep for themselves. Who would want to be immortal in this world of suffering anyway?

So, the good thing to learn from this festival is that it makes us appreciate Krishna Consciousness as was given to us by Srila Prabhupada.