It is the greatest show on earth- the Kumbh Mela. Ash-smeared devotees, wandering holy men with dreadlocked hair, saffron-robed pundits, tourists, gypsies and pilgrims from near and far all gather at the banks of the converging rivers Ganga and Yamuna to purify themselves. The thousands of tents pitched across this large stretch of land are swarmed with tea stall owners, vendors, spiritualists and shelter-seekers. Somewhere in the crowd, the smoke from a bonfire engulfs a groups of folk dancers creating a magical play of mist and movement. Devotional music blares from loudspeakers reminding folks of their religious beliefs, inspiring them to plunge into the sacred rivers.
On this day, masses of humanity wash away their sins in the holy waters of Prayag, now known as Allahabad, in northern India. This massive gathering takes place every 12 years and is known to attract anywhere from 30 to 70 million Hindu pilgrims. After this religious fair, most pilgrims head home satisfied at their purification- a kind of atonement that requires no introspection, no meditation nor rationality but a simple dip in the holy waters to cleanse the mind. Some people take a pill to relieve their worries, others attend gatherings in temples and churches or roam the earth in hopes of self-enlightenment. If Divinity is to be reached through outward rituals whether it be shaving the head, wearing a particular garment, bathing in holy water or roaming in the forest, wouldn’t the fish and animals have found God long ago? The Sufi saint, Bulleh Shah, asked this question a few centuries ago. Yet today, it must be asked again, for, by cleaning the body how does one remove the filth residing in the recesses of the heart?
It may serve us better to forgo the quest for God in the forests and houses of worship if Divinity lies in the truthfulness and goodness of the heart. And even if enlightenment is promising in any place of worship be it a temple, mosque, church or place of meditation, what would it avail if one lacks the desire to ascend and improve? What is it that brings us to these places? It is the temptation of popularity, excitement of socializing, meeting a life-partner, showing-off a talent, fulfilling a ritual or is it the pull of the heart, the search for truth and meaning to one’s existence? At the end, it is the honesty of our quest and how true we remain to ourselves that may be the measure of our worth in the Divine realm.