Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Kumbh congregation and Pollution of the Ganges

India is a land with mystical aura. There are sacred places belonging to different religions spread all over the country where flow of the pilgrims and believers in their spiritual pursuit continues throughout the year and on the top of it there are periodic gatherings taking place at one place or the other and The Kumbh congregation at Haridwar being one such event happening once in 12 years. The Hindus believe that during this auspicious time, bathing in the river Ganges would ensure salvation for them, which means getting rid of repeated cycles of birth and death.

History

It dates back probably to more than a millennium when Hinduism was facing a threat from within. People were ditching the religion and flocking towards Buddhism when the Vedic thinker Shankracharya devised ways of social interaction among the followers of Hinduism by creating places of holy and divine significance in different parts of India. People had to be motivated to stay within the Vedic fold by either philosophic persuasion or, if need be, by force. Some hardcore followers organised themselves in schools of ascetics (akhadas of sadhus) under various names and banners in order to forcibly defend their faith by confronting those who were allegedly proselytising the followers of their faith. The Upanisads were stressed upon as the canons of the Vedic philosophy.

It is open to debate whether the strategy helped stem exodus from Hinduism or not but it is clear that this approach achieved little in terms of integrating the caste ridden Hindu society or unshackling it from the clutches of the priestly class subscribing to the Puranic version of Hinduism which even today continues to keep the Hindus in superstitions and fear and wrath of the unknown.

Issues

Today the concept of social integration by such gatherings does no longer stand. It has long been overtaken by individualism and blind faith in the idea of the so called salvation. If not, how would one justify the belief of the devotees that by drinking the water in which the sadhus have bathed one is sure to attain salvation? Or that the waters of the Ganges turn into manna (the elixir of life) during the auspicious period which every Hindu must drink?

Whatever be the underlying purpose or superstition of the congregation some issues crop up before the humankind. These issues may be political, religious and economic. However, the single largest issue is pollution and degradation of the Ganges. Millions gathering and staying at one place for so many days cause and face many a health hazard in and around a river which is already carrying pathogens and deadly disease causing agents to an alarming extent. Moreover, the after effects of the pollution thus caused are more severe and dangerous for the society in comparison with salvation of few narrow minded. Do we need another Shankracharya to give us a wake up call on that?

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