Kumbh diary: Confessions of a Big Dipper
Everyone is going into the vortex and the vortex happens to be Panchvati. The authorities estimate that around 20,00,000 people have congregated at the banks of the Godavari on Sunday on the occasion of the Sinhanstha, Kumbh Mela's second shahi snan (neighbouring Trmbakeshwar witnessed the first one on August 12).
As the crowds file their way past Mehboobia Masjid and the Shani Mandir and the numerous stalls selling Kumbh paraphernalia along with pav bhaji and sweet tea, the roads start to narrow, with people slowing down in accordance. And then comes the opening. What seemed like a large midday mela the last two days has become a human epidemic.
Panchvati is teeming with people. While the sadhus are still taking their holy dips according to their akhadas' pecking order at the Ramkund, the unwashed masses wash away their sins — and sundry laundry — some distance away from the holiest of Godavari's spots.
I'm already 40 minutes late for my dip. The comparison that went through my head as I ventured into the Horlicks-coloured Godavari could be construed as blasphemous. "Just enter the water and dip your head in thrice," commanded Swamiji standing next to the river behind the Neelkantheshwar Temple.
I looked around. People were not only bathing devotedly, but they were also splashing about. This was religion with dollops of Appu Ghar-style fun. I had told Swamiji that I didn't want the whole hog. (Many were sitting at the ghat with priests performing pujas.) I just wanted an abridged but genuine dip. The water was cold and as I lowered myself thrice in quick succession in the water, I ended up saying, "Jai Shiv Shankar".
Swamiji gave me a proud smile as I took my bag from him. "Sukhi ho beta," he said as he accepted his tuition fee in the drizzle that had started. I smiled back sheepishly and told him in chaste English: "Thank you, Swamiji." And I meant it.