It wasn’t planned, but it was a great opportunity. I threw together a few essentials, jumped on a rickety Indian bus, scrambled for one of the last remaining seats, and sat through a violently bumpy twelve-hour overnight journey. It was a tad uncomfortable but I accepted it as part of the experience. As we arrived at 6.00am in a chilly Allahabad, the thick fog began to disperse, and the sun rose to reveal one of the greatest congregations of human beings in any one place: “Kumbha Mela”. Held every 12 years, the festival attracts faithful pilgrims, inquisitive spiritual seekers, destitute beggars, famed yoga masters, and extreme ascetics rarely seen by the rest of civilisation. This year, over 80 million people will be magnetically drawn to this spiritual melting pot. No other religious gathering comes close to it in terms of scale.
The focal point of the entire site is the triveni-sangam, the meeting place of three sacred rivers: the Ganges, Yamuna and the subterranean Sarasvati. By bathing in the confluence at astrologically auspicious periods, lifetimes of karmic baggage can be destroyed, and one can free themselves from the complex meshes of action and reaction. Thus, one can transcend the temporal world of perpetual rebirth and open the doors to liberation. Needless to say I capitalised on the opportunity. It was a powerful experience. This human spectacle, however, has also become renowned as a forum to exchange spiritual values, religious ideas and moral codes. Above and beyond the exotic mysticism that can attract and capture one’s attention, these festivals offer the golden opportunity to meet saintly and self-realised people. This is the essence of Kumbha Mela.
But who is a true saint? The Bhagavad-gita explains that such persons are not stereotyped. They may be recognised by many people and famed in spiritual circles, or maybe not. They may be erudite, scholarly and philosophically astute, or maybe not. They may be renounced, austere and free from worldly responsibility, or maybe not. The one essential quality of the truly saintly person, however, is their enthusiastic, dedicated and unwavering conviction to selflessly serve. They exist to give happiness to others. It is those souls who we have to seek out, for the sacred truths of dharma are hidden within their hearts. As I head towards London Heathrow, I reflect on the many saintly people I have met on this trip. Over the years I have become more and more convinced that saints are not just personalities of the past, but that saints are also living in our midst. We walk and talk with spiritually evolved people more often than we may appreciate. I sincerely hope these special souls will remember me. I’ll surely be blessed if they do.