According to astrological calculations, the Kumbha Mela is held every twelve years and begins on Makar Sankranti, the day when the sun and moon enter Capricorn and Jupiter enters Aries. The astrological configuration on Makar Sankranti is considered to be especially auspicious, as it is said that the passage from Earth to the higher planets is open at that time, thus allowing the soul to easily attain the celestial world. For such reasons it is understandable why the Kumbha Mela has become so popular among all classes of transcendentalists in India. This year the Indian government spent more than 8 million dollars on preliminary organization for the Kumbha Mela.
Here in South Africa, Divine Life Society of South Africa observed this auspicious event on Sunday, 3 March at the magnificent Sivananda International Cultural Centre, Sivananda Nagar, La Mercy. This event was first observed by Pujya Swami Sahajananda on 29 January 2001 at Ganga Rani, Sivanandashram, Reservoir Hills, to enable devotees to experience the joy of receiving Ganga Mataâ€™s Darshan during the auspicious period. Wrote Pujya Swamiji, "We in the Divine Life Society are the most fortunate in the world to have Ganga both at Reservoir Hills and at SICC, Sivananda Nagar, La Mercy. Our Divine Master gave this priceless gift to us."
On Sunday, 3 March, the day commenced at 6am in Bhagirathi with almost 700 devotees chanting "Hara Hara Gange Jay Ma Gange" followed by a prayer to Mother Ganga & sloka's from Greatness of Mother Ganga. The chanting Sri Ganga Stotram, Sri Ganga Chalisa and Sri Hanuman Chalisa thereafter further churned the spiritual vibrations in Bhagirathi, by which time the numbers in these precincts swelled to 1 750. The Havan dedicated to Ganga Mata took place from 7-8am. The Devas must surely have come down to witness this unprecedented spiritual event as the powerful spiritual vibrations permeating Bhagirathi at that time created a great wave of Bhakti in the hearts of many present.
During Ganga Arati, all were given the opportunity to offer Ganga Jal into the holy cascades of Bhagirathi. Devotees then embarked on a'mini pilgrimage' to the three other sacred Ganga pools at SICC ”Ganga Rani, Yamuna and Saraswati”to offer Ganga Jal into the waters of Mother Ganga at these pools, whilst offering prayers. The organisers reminded us that offering Ganga Jal has a therapeutic and purifying effect on body, mind and soul.
Said Amitabha Mukerjee, "Ganga water has the recursive property that any water mixed with even the minutest quantity of Ganga water becomes Ganga water, and inherits its healing properties". Ganga water has even been tested scientifically, and found to have no germs or bacteria. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: "among streams, I am the Ganga". The Devi Bhagavatam states that whoever utters 'Gange, Gange' even from a distance of hundreds of kilometres, becomes purified from all sins, and attains Vaikuntha, the world of Vishnu. Lord Dhanwantari states: "when the body is afflicted by senility and diseases, the Holy water of Mother Ganga is the medicine, and Lord Narayana, from whose Feet Mother Ganga emanates, is the great physician".
Once, while performing Ganga Arati at the Sivananda Ashram in Chatsworth, one of the Ganga Arati girls actually saw Ganga Mata manifest in the pool in her real form as that of the deity. She wrote to Pujya Swamiji as follows: "Swamiji, on 4 June 2005, while I was performing Ganga Arati, I suddenly noticed Ganga Mata rise from the Ganga pool. Ganga Mata was dressed in red and gold, and she wore a crown."
After breakfast and Ganga Arati, devotees assembled in the Sivananda Prayer Hall where a spiritual feast awaited the almost 3 000 devotees present. Amongst the dignitaries were the Consul General of India in Durban, The Honourable Vinod Kumar Sharma, scores of Indian nationals, patrons, well-wishers and donors. The main prayer hall was filled to capacity and four overflow halls were used to accommodate devotees who could not be seated in the main prayer hall. The Satsang programme included melodious Bhajans & Kirtans, messages from our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda and Pujya Swami Sahajananda, a well executed dance by our Spiritual Darlings in praise of Ganga Mata, and a powerpoint presentation on the significance of Mother Ganga and the Kumbha Mela.
In the first message our Divine Master said, "River Ganges, also lovingly called as Mother Ganga, is the holiest of rivers to the Hindus. She is attributed with tremendous spiritual significance. Not only does She clean the body, but also purifies the soul. Every pious Hindu thirsts at least for a spoonful of Ganga water in his lifetime. The River Ganga has been highly eulogised in the ancient scriptures of the Hindu religion. Taking in a spoonful of the sacred water or a dip brings countless benefits. Ganga is my Mother. Himalayas is my Father. I owe all my learning and attainments to Mother Ganga and Father Himalayas". In the last days of his life, the Master expressed a desire to see Ganga Mata from where he lay in bed. The direction of the bed was changed to view the holy Tirtha, which he loved so much, on whose banks he lived for almost forty years and on whose glory he had written a book. The Master wished to have Ganges water. The water was brought to the Master. In Ananthanarayanan's book, From Man to God-Man we read, "The Master, who experienced difficulty in taking the smallest quantity of solid or liquid, gulped down half a glass of Ganges water without apparent troubleâ€”and with that, the Being that was Swami Sivananda laid aside its mortal vesture."
Pujya Swami Sahajananda's audio message, which was recorded on 11 June 1983, was played thereafter. We produce parts of this inspiring message: "The way to remember God constantly is to repeat His Name. Later on if you meditate deeply you will find there is no difference between God and His Name. They are both the same. The moment you repeat His Name you are in contact with God. So the whole aim is to try to make the repetition of the Divine Name as continuous as possible. Remembrance becomes permanent; but to get into that state we have to practise. So during the day to help with remembrance, Swami Ramdas says: "Walking Ram Nam, sitting Ram Nam, eating Ram Nam, sleeping Ram Nam". All the time you must try to bring the mind back again and again to repeat the Mantra.
"How the Mantra works, we don't know but there is a mysterious power. A certain particular vibration is set up by the Mantra, by a particular sound. Every Mantra has a vibration. It has a particular vibration that we cannot see with our physical eyes, but we can see it with our inner eye. There are different Mantras with different vibrations. The power of the Mantra is locked up in it, like the tree is locked up in the seed. If you want the tree to manifest itself, you have to plant the seed, water it and although the tree is in the seed, the conditions must be present for the tree to manifest itself. Similarly the Mantra must be repeated so that the Shakti that is locked up in the Mantra will be released and as the locked-up Shaktiis released, we get nearer and nearer God."
Puya Swamiji's message was followed by a captivating and informative presentation covering the essence of this auspicious spiritual event and traced the awesome descent of Mother Ganga from the Celestial regions to earth. From it we learnt that Kumbha means pot or kalasha and mela means a meeting place. The kumbha mela is a meeting place for devotees who would like to drink the divine nectar or amrita. Every 12 years a Purna Kumbha Mela is held at Prayag. The 12th such Purna Kumbha Mela is called the Maha Kumbha Mela. This year we celebrate the Maha Kumbha Mela and it is unlikely that any one of us may be present for the next one after another 144 years. The Kumbh Mela is entirely devoted to the worship of Mother Ganga. In observing the austerities of the Mela, millions of devotees allow Mother Ganga to wash away their sins accumulated in this period of Kali Yug.
Pujya Swamiji too had a great love for Mother Ganga. Like King Bhagiratha, Swamiji performed intense austerities to bring Mother Ganga to South Africa in the form of our Ganga Rani's at our various ashrams. The Holy water that you touch and drink in our Ganga Ranis have great significance and should not be seen as ordinary water and there are a number of recorded miracles of devotees who have experienced the Grace of Mother Ganga. Daily Ganga Arati is offered at our ashrams to the beautiful music of the Ganga Arati.
We are pleased to report that there were hundreds of newcomers to the Sivananda International Cultural Centre on 3 March. Many were in awe the magnitude of the precincts of the Ashram and paid tributes. One lady said, "I never knew that this beautiful place existed. I am really enjoying the peace of this place."Another young girl was heard speaking on the cellphone at the bookstore. She said to her friend, "Why don't you come now. There are thousands of people here." "I am happy I came on this pilgrimage. I am really enjoying this day", said a third person.
The Society expresses its deep gratitude to all devotees, donors and well-wishers who rallied around to make this day a memorable one. Kumbha Mela in India is indeed a magnificent and awesome encounter. It is impossible to capture the festival. Here at Sivananda International Cultural Centre, La Mercy, Ganga Mata captured us. Words fail to truly describe the event it is one that has to be experienced personally. We pray that the blessings of our Divine Master and Mother Ganga be upon all!