A Dip For Moksha
Village priest leading his horde of devotees chants sab teerth baar
baar, ganga sagar ek bar. You can go to all the holy places, but a
pilgrimage to ganga sagar equals them all. A dip means redemption for
all wrong done. The place is Sagar Island, on the confluence of the
Ganga with the Bay of Bengal. The day "Makar Sankranti" or the
last day of the month of paus.
Legend has it that, before
joining the sea, the Ganga watered the mortal remains of King Sagar's
60,000 sons liberating their souls once and forever. It was standing on
the Sagar Island that the mythical Kapil Muni condoned the sins of the
sons of King Sagar who had dared to stop the horse blessed at Lord
Indra's Aswamedha Yagna and tied it to a post near his temple. It is
this legend that attracts people to this little island in a remote
southern corner of West Bengal.
The Ganga Sagar mela (fair) is
the largest annual assemblage of devotees in India. The greatness of the
mela can be assessed from the fact that over a million pilgrims come
from far-flung corners of India and beyond, speaking different languages
and belonging to diverse castes and creeds, for a sacred dip at this
holy confluence. For this, no invitation is given. No Propaganda is
carried out and overall no authority exists for carrying out the mela.
is indeed a tough journey. A few days in packed buses and trains bring
the pilgrims to Calcutta. From there, again a long bus journey to ferry
ghats or jetty in Sunderbans area, followed by crossing the tidal river
stretching for miles across. The last leg involves either walking or
traveling by a local bus up to 30 kilometers depending on the location
of embarkation point.
The journey can be tiring but religious
fervor of the pilgrims overcomes all hardships. Kapil Muni Ki Jai, Dapil
Muni Ki Jai, (Hall Kapil Muni), the din rises above the grinding motors
of the launches ferrying the pilgrims across the Ganga and the countless
buses plying between Calcutta and Namkhana. The problem of traveling
doesn't deter even the weak and vulnerable. Old people in their
eighties, and village women carrying babies and little children in tow
are a common sight.
The never ending stream of pilgrims keeps
pouring in throughout the day and night before the auspicious day and
occupies any available space on the sandy beach. They move about the
place in groups, many displaying saffron and red flags, identifying the
religious akhara (group) they belong to as well as acting as beacon to
the members who stray out of the group.
People walk to the
sound of the bells, blowing conch shells and chanting prayers. Strains
of devotional songs can be heard from far and near. And, the ceaseless
din of loudspeakers. An array of shops, stacked with heaps of vermilion,
rudraksha, colorful beads, conch shells line the pathways. Many a
visitor stands wide-eyed before the shops selling everything from
foodstuff, household utensils to remote controlled toys.
crowd around the naga sadhus (naked ascetics) without whom the Ganga
Sagar mela is incomplete. Sitting naked near the temple and enjoying a
chillum of ganja, (cannabis) they are also the targets of tourists'
camera. While devotees jostle in front of numerous temporary shrines of
Hindu deities to pay homage, Kapil Muni's temple remains the chief
attraction. The temple of Kapil Muni, as we see it today, is by no means
the spot where the saga meditated. It went under the sea a millennium
ago followed by the many others built in its place, which subsequently
were also swallowed by the advancing sea.