I made my way out of the camp and down the path to the stairway that led to the sangam. I walked with long haired saints dressed in robes of white and saffron as the music of harmoniums joined with the songs and chants of the people. Cameras flashed and press recorded, catching the moment for those who could not be present. A remote miniature helicopter with TV cameras and four sets of spinning blades hovered above us, moving here and there with incredible precision trying to record the un-recordable. People rushed past security and tried to wade into the river with cell phones to be the one who caught the picture that could be shown to their families and friends for generations to come to prove they were here. And as quickly as they were rebuked and pushed back into the crowd, another took their place.
The river stretched wide before me shimmering in the last light of day as tiny waves and swirling currents created sacred patterns from the shattered light. Long slender boats with pilgrims glided across the surface far away and candles were lit on their graceful bows filled with hope that their petitions might be answered. A silent ancient red fortress stared back across the river from the far banks miles away. It had seen millennia of these gatherings, but none like this, for this would be the largest coming together of people in all of time!
While the river before us was nearly empty and almost ethereal in its absence of human activity, a mile to the right or the left of me, it was as if a line had been drawn that could not be crossed. But beyond that hidden force field, all of humanity seemed to be waiting. They stretched and stretched and stretched beyond imagination, through the valleys and hills and the streets of the city far away. They were an undulating force filled with chanting and rhythm and song, like a literal sea made of people. I wondered as I was directed through the crowd and seated among the saints, how it is that I came to be here, but quickly lost all thoughts in this regard and took my place among them. And so it began:
I just had the incredible experience of participating in the first blessing of the Kumbh Mela with a small group of India’s foremost saints. I got to sit right in the very front right behind Puja Swami Saraswati on the water’s edge, at the exact point where the worlds most sacred rivers meet at the Sangam. I had the exquisite honor to bless the first rose petals offered to the river and then participated in each successive blessing.
To grasp the magnitude of this, one needs to understand that of the millions and millions of pilgrims present and of the thousands of spiritual leaders from across the world attending the Kumbh, only our small group were allowed at the actual Sangam. The millions of other pilgrims as far as you could see, were held back a mile at the closest. The press used a miniature television camera on a remote control helicopter hovering above us, to film and transmit the sacred moment.
As I entered the river, the swirling waters reflected the light of candles and lanterns residing both on boats and on the ancient Red Fort built by Achabar on the opposite distant shore.
The water was cool but not cold, and the sense of the auspicious moment shot through me as I shared blessings for all humanity and asked for peace between all the peoples of the earth. And I also shared a blessing for our tired planet itself, praying for rejuvenation and a rebalancing of its resources.
Following the blessings and the end of the first ceremony, I followed the Swami back to our camp to reflect on the coming together of so many people, and now write to capture the moment.
Tomorrow will be the first auspicious bathing day and I hope to spend the rest of the evening in deep reflection on what I should share. How my life has brought me to this, I can’t begin to imagine. And so I shall just remain humbled by it and hope that my blessings come to be.
My hands are still wet from the river as I write this. And so may each of you who read it feel and take to your heart all that was presented. May the first blessings of the Kumbh be with you too.
The sound of millions of people surround me on this sacred night. May I not forget it.