A Moment at the Maha Kumbha Mela

Swami Nirmalratna Saraswati

All day and all night from hundreds of amplifiers came forth an almighty orchestration of mantras, poojas, bhajans and kirtans, lectures and satsangsall continuously luring the awareness of those within reach into the realm of the gods and goddesses being worshipped. Accompanied by this unbroken symphony to the soul, aspirants, sadhus and sages alike met and exchanged blessings with each other as they have for ages on the riverbanks at Prayag Raj during the Maha Kumbha Mela.

It is only at this time, when the heavenly bodies align into specific conjunctions, that the Saraswati* arises from the depths of her abode and unifies with the forces of Ganga and Yamuna. Saraswati is the voice of the Mela; she offers her divine wisdom to all. Aspirants who come with enough faith hear her and receive the prasad of their most cherished sankalpa. Whether the pilgrims make their journey seeking spiritual purification or just to see what happens, most will find themselves profoundly touched by their Kumbha Mela adventures. Everyone will leave with one extra special story to relate from a vast selection of possible tales. Mine tells of a moment of silence.

There are rare experiences which take up residence within and then for a long, long time underlie all details of life's thoughts and feelings. A meeting with a young naga baba within my first hour at the Kumbha Mela proved to be one of these rare times. We didn't take up much of each other's life, just a few minutes one early morning in the foggy dawn light when I was invited to sit at his camp dhuni.

Outside, above an akhara enclosure, an enormous geru flag billowed to and fro. Inside a tent naga babas clothed in bhasma sat all around on the sandy floor; some adjusting their matted locks, others adorning their nakedness with rudraksha beadschilums were being prepared, smoked, and passed on. As a greeting or farewell Om Namo Narayana boomed again and again throughout the audience. A young naga appeared calmly and quietly on the opposite side of the dhuni. He was on mauna and attending to his duties around the fire with graceful, careful actions. Several times he was given commands from his superior in a raging, roaring voice, yet this young mauni never faltered. There he was a personification of silence. When he slowly lifted his head and looked directly into my eyes the silence in his gaze met a presence within me that few moments have ever embraced. For an eternal instant my whole being was held captive somewhere in a soundless state beyond inner light and darkness, beyond movement and stillnesson being released, I sat watching myself as I observed the activities in this encampment of Shiva.

The presence in that darshan of silence pervaded all the magnificent festivities I found myself in during my few Kumbha Mela days. No matter how intense the sounds, no matter how vivid the scenes, this silence played witness to all.

Vedic scriptures tell that the silencing of all the senses through maunam is an austerity of self-control. At its highest it is a sadhana regarded as a sacrificial performance through which the consciousness may come to reflect upon itself and realize itself as the atman, the supreme silence. The young naga was a living example of one undertaking this sacrifice.

I respect this mauni naga's prasad as a silent message from Saraswati. It has inspired me and charged my sankalpa.

—January 2001

* Saraswati represents sushumna nadi. In yoga this is the most important spiritual channel in the psychic body of man which flows only if the solar (pingala) and lunar (ida) forces are balanced and purified. When sushumna (Saraswati) flows, kundalini awakens and may rise through the chakras to merge with the pure consciousness in sahasrara (the field of the Maha Kumbha Mela).