A Pagan at India’s Kumbh Mela

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January 14th in India marked the beginning of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world. Held in full every 12 years, it is an integral festival within Hinduism, one focused on prayer, purification, and spiritual awakening.

“Kumbh is the confluence of all our cultures. It is the symbol of spiritual awakening. It is the eternal flow of humanity. It is the surge of rivers, forests and the ancient wisdom of the sages. It is the flow of life itself. It is the symbol of the confluence of nature and humanity. Kumbh is the source of all energy. Kumbh makes humankind realize this world and the other, sins and blessings, wisdom and ignorance, darkness and light. Holy rivers are the symbols of the lyrical flow of humanity. Rivers are indicators of the flow of water of life in the human body itself. In the human body that is an embodiment of home, nothing is possible without the five elements. The elements – fire, wind, water, earth and sky – symbolize the human body.”

Patrick McCollum in India

Patrick McCollum in India

Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has been invited to the 2013 Kumbh Mela, and will participate in ritual activities at the event’s center. The Patrick McCollum Foundation has been posting updates from Patrick in India, and his first Kumbh Mela-centered post is up now.

“I just had the incredible experience of participating in the first blessing of the Kumbh Mela with a small group of India’s foremost saints. I got to sit right in the very front right behind Puja Swami Saraswati on the water’s edge, at the exact point where the worlds most sacred rivers meet at the Sangam.  I had the exquisite honor to bless the first rose petals offered to the river and then participated in each successive blessing.

To grasp the magnitude of this, one needs to understand that of the millions and millions of pilgrims present and of the thousands of spiritual leaders from across the world attending the Kumbh, only our small group were allowed at the actual Sangam.  The millions of other pilgrims as far as you could see, were held back a mile at the closest.  The press used a miniature television camera on a remote control helicopter hovering above us, to film and transmit the sacred moment.

As I entered the river, the swirling waters reflected the light of candles and lanterns residing both on boats and on the ancient Red Fort built by Achabar on the opposite distant shore.

The water was cool but not cold, and the sense of the auspicious moment shot through me as I shared blessings for all humanity and asked for peace between all the peoples of the earth.  And I also shared a blessing for our tired planet itself, praying for rejuvenation and a rebalancing of its resources.”

The 2013 Kumbh Mela will last for 55 days, and is highlighted by a series of ritual baths. That a modern Pagan has been so honored at this event, and is participating directly, is exciting. A moment that will hopefully lead to ever-greater interactions and solidarity between Hindus and modern Pagans in years ahead. You can read all of Patrick McCollum’s updates from India, here. You may also follow the Patrick McCollum Foundation on Facebook. For more background on the Kumbh Mela, the documentary film “Short Cut to Nirvana” gives a sense of the scope and importance of this festival.

We’ll keep you posted with further developments from Patrick McCollum’s trip.