ON THURSDAY, FEBRUARY SEVENTH THE VISHWA HINDU parishad held an immense Sant Mahasammelan (gathering of saints) at the camp of Swami Vasudevananda on the Kumbh grounds. It was a raucous affair, with the thousands in attendance shouting, “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har Har Mahadev” every few minutes throughout the speeches. The media was present in full force at this most political of all Kumbh events—half a dozen broadcast vans were parked outside, incidentally blocking an important road. The saints on stage, dressed in every hue of saffron robes (with a few in white as well), represented most of the main Hindu lineages and akharas. The tents, curtains and flags on the dais were all saffron.

The five-hour affair dealt with issues pressed by the VHP for years, including the construction of a new Ram temple in Ayodhya. Swami Ramanandacharya pleaded, “All of us live in air-conditioned places, and our Lord Ram lives in a tented accommodation [set up after the masjid on the site was torn down in 1992].” Saint after saint echoed his plea, many calling for political action.

Mahamandaleshwar Vijyogananda Ji Maharaj introduced a resolution calling for protection of the Ganga. “The truth is,” he lamented, “that the river has lost its identity due to this heavy pollution.” Sadhvi Pragya Bharti read out a resolution on the status of women. “The increase in cases of rapes, female infanticide, domestic violence, dowry problem and eve teasing are a big concern for the fraternity of saints. The society in which women are not respected is not a civilized society.” The resolution called for moral education in school, banning of indecent portrayal of women on TV and in advertisements and the death penalty for rape. All resolutions were passed with the chanting of “Aum.” As the meeting ended, there was a great rush of devotees to touch the feet of the revered saints.

Call for action: (above) the famed blind swami Jagadguru Ramabhadracharya addresses an extraordinary array of religious leaders, including the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Peetham (seated in a chair at below) gathered on stage for the event; sadhus and devotees in attendance