26.02.2007 19 °C
The 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) (14 - 16 Jan) s 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.
It 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.
People 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