One million-plus devotees from all walks of life sojourn at Sangam for a full month of rigorous sadhana and joyous devotion


Most of the Kumbh grounds are set aside not for the hundreds of thousands of sadhus present, who are mostly in sector 4, but for the huge number of pilgrims who come to spend the full month of Magh. One of these pilgrims from the recently formed central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, explains who they are and what they do.


BY COINCIDENCE, BOTH MY WIFE AND I were born in our respective homes after a recitation of Bhagavatha Purana and named after the scripture—I as Bhagwati Shankar, she as Bhagvathi Devi. We are a group of 80 who came 700 kilometers from Chhattisgarh, bringing all our belongings in a truck. Our guru is Sadhu Vir Vrati Prabal Ji Maharaj, who is a disciple of Karpatri Ji Maharaj. We have been doing kalpavas [“long stay”] here each year for ten years, not just for this Kumbh. Though the Kumbh is held at four places, kalpavas is done only here at Prayag Raj, on the banks of Sangam, in the month of Magh [in 2013, January 27 to February 25]. By doing kalpavas we earn a lot of spiritual merit as per our scriptures. My life has been completely transformed since I started this.

As kalpavasis we have to sleep on the ground, take a daily bath in the Ganga and live a disciplined life with minimum food. We spend as much time as we can in performing bhajans and reading scriptures. We cannot leave the city of Allahabad during the thirty days. Our suhagins, married women whose husbands are alive, also fast on Mondays and Thursdays.

We cook our own food and do not take onions or garlic. Rarely do we take free food at the bhandaras, and then only if we have donated something to them first. Sometimes we ourselves organize bhandaras, according to our financial capabilities. We are supposed to have food just once a day, but these days we are a bit more liberal. Many of us have food twice a day, especially those in poor health.

In the Kumbh spirit: Bhagwati Shankar Gupta and his wife Bhagvathi Devi, both 63; percussion section for bhajana
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Most of the people in our group are from the age of 60 to 90 years and mostly couples. The per-head expense of kalpavas is around us$92 for a one-month stay here.

At five in the morning our group of eighty goes for a bath in Ganga, which is not far from our camp. Following the rules of kalpavas, this bath has to be taken before sunrise; therefore, we get up around 3:30am. At Ganga we just do the bath. Brushing of teeth and other daily duties are performed here at camp only, because we do not want to pollute the water of Mother Ganga. It takes over an hour for all of us to finish bathing.

After the bath, we make a Sivalinga out of sand on the banks of Mother Ganga and worship it. Then we perform Ganga arati and make donations to the brahmins who are there. After coming back to camp, we do the puja of our own Ishta Devata. We also go through scriptures, including Gita and Ramayana.

Around 9am we take food and then sing bhajans. In fact, we go to the Ganga singing bhajans and come back singing bhajans. We have some musical instruments for this. When we go for the darshan and satsang of saints, all eighty of us go together. Sometimes others join us. We never lock our tents when we go out, as we feel absolutely safe here.

A Kalpavasi camp: Gupta and part of his group engage in a lively bhajan for the benefit of our photographer
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There are hundreds of thousands of people who do kalpavas here at Prayag every year in the month of Magh. The biggest number come from Chattisgarh. I feel everyone should come and do kalpavas here on the banks of Sangam in Prayag Raj. If you do it at home, you get just 10 percent benefit. If you do it in the temple, you get 30 percent benefit. But if you come to Prayag Raj and do kalpavas, you get 100 percent benefit. Whatever charity or penance one does here will have a lot of value in the realm of the Gods.

After six years of kalpavas, we have to make special offerings to the brahmins here. I did so when I completed six years and will do it again once we complete 12 years.

I have been coming here for the 30-day kalpavas with my group for the past ten years. Over that time the water level of Ganga has gone down, and that is a big problem. Interestingly, the water of Ganga that you see is of brownish color and not so clean. However, every year for the past ten years I have been taking this water home with me. When kept for some time, it becomes very clean. Waters of other rivers are not like this; it is special quality of Ganga water. If Hindus in India get united, things can change for Ganga. But I am a very small man and it is difficult for me to speak on this subject.

(right) Tending to the ordinary chores of the day; (left) four ladies chat while a few more nap inside a spartan tent. Shortly after the main bathing day on February 10, heavy rains turned these camps into soggy lakes, but few kalpavasis abandoned their sadhana.
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