That religion is a lifestyle choice is obvious when you go to the Kumbh Mela. The mother lode of all festivals, the Kumbh is without doubt the biggest, phattest congregation of humans on Earth. Yes, religion and matters of the spiritual realm do make a big pitch. But as anyone, hard-nosed atheists included, visiting Hardwar between yesterday and April 28 will gather, Hinduism a la the Kumbh is our rock’n’roll, a way of life one can choose. The numbers thrown up at the Kumbh itself are of planetary proportions. Fifty million visitors are scheduled to visit Hardwar over the next three months. Along with the minimally-dressed sadhus, who manage to keep their combustible engines glowing in the cold with a little help from friends and faith, there will be warmly-clad family folks thronging the banks of the Ganga.
Some wags insist that as India’s biggest religious festival, the occasion should be used to ‘radicalise’ the devout to become more socially aware. Cleaning the Ganga, using the vast donations made by pilgrims to help the poor are fine ideas. But to hitch the Kumbh pony only on to such utilitarian, noble functions is to miss the party for a seminar. The Kumbh’s basic purpose is to get drunk with the joy of being alive. After all, the festival’s origins lie in the puranic ‘Samudra manthan,’ the divine churning of the sea that brought forth ‘amrit’ (nectar). The rest are add-ons. At the core of the Kumbh lies what 19th century French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire celebrated: “... entering the crowds as if walking into an immense reservoir of electricity”. Basically, it’s a vast pool of alternatse energy.