Those who seek to deconstruct or repudiate the cultural idea of India, will fail to understand, let alone appreciate, the faith of the multitude that congregated at Ujjain for the Kumbh and participated in activities which have been part of our heritage for ages
French philosophe Voltaire was convinced that all knowledge came to the West from India and yet he lamented how badly the Western nations treated the civilisations and people of the East in their quest for gold and glory. “Nous avons montré” (we have shown) wrote Voltaire, “combien nous le surpassons en méchanceté, et combien nous leur sommes inferieurs en sagesse”, (how superior we are to them, ie Indians, in wickedness and how inferior we are to them in wisdom). Voltaire’s views, in his time and later, were also echoed by a number of Western thinkers, who looked to India for the light of knowledge and liberation especially from ignorance and a mode of living that had increasingly begun to lose its balance and cohesion. This reference to the innate Bharatiya wisdom sagesse that Voltaire made, was palpably felt as one neared Ujjain and the centre of the ongoing Kumbh, the river Kshipra, in Madhya Pradesh.
As one walked in the night throughout the Kumbha Kshetra and mingled and got lost in the circumambulating surge of pilgrims from far and wide one felt that intense impulse of devotion, of an inner quest that has defined India’s civilisational march over the millennia and expressed through the urge for a holy dip in the divine waters of the sacred river, in their thirst to listen with rapt attention to the discourse of the gathered saints and sages and in their aspiration to wash away negativities and emerge cleansed to face anew the challenges of life.
Dharma, that indescribable and untranslatable word, defined their actions on such occasions. One saw India in a microcosm in this region during these days no irritation, no intolerance, no disregard for nature, no impatience was visible in the thronging multitude as people moved around. It was a sight that the certified intellectual, infatuated with deconstructionism, would find hard to comprehend leave, alone describe or analyse. For minds that are irretrievably afflicted with the attitude of ‘repudiation’ this would be a hard sight to absorb.
For thousands of years, intuitively and at times with the help of the seasons and the almanac, throngs of people have moved across India, unceasingly and unfailingly to take a holy dip in different parts of the continent on different occasion, not only delineating a cultural and spiritual unity but also breathing fresh energy into the civilisational flow of which they were an integral and inseparable part.
Sri Aurobindo observed in his essays on Indian culture, the religious life of the people in India “was more intense than that of any other country; they drank in with remarkable facility the thoughts of the philosophers and the influence of the saints… they were taught by the Sannyasins and sang the songs of the Bhaktas and the bauls…” Or as KV Rangaswami Aiyangar wrote in his masterly introduction to the Tirthavivecana-kanda, a discussion on the tirthas and their undertakings in the eighth part of Bhatta Lakshmidhara’s Krytakalpataru, “Where political ambitions united or divided the country, pilgrimage wrought a unity based on religion, and a faith in certain eternal verities. Long before wise statesmanship attempted or accomplished Indian unification, Akhand Hindusthan had sprung from the wandering of pilgrims.”
One saw that ‘Akhand Hindusthan’, unsullied by ‘isms’, unaffected by deconstructionism or repudiation, unconcerned with what the ‘educated’ thought of such an inexplicable behaviour of trudging miles to bathe in a river at a particular time and on a certain day. One saw how the people ‘drank with remarkable facility’ the thought of the saints during the sessions of kathas that were held throughout the day at regular intervals. The inane and insipid debates of urban India; the ludicrous assertions by some — of an India in conflict; the false spectres of intolerance; and the imbecile and perfidious arguments often thrown up by certified ‘degree holders’, seemed far away, as if in a haze with no link to the roots in the soil on which the pilgrims trudged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was right when he said, referring to this unique congregation, that every day a population as large as a small European country comes and takes the holy dip and that its organisation and paraphernalia is worth several case studies by leading universities of the world. But then, most in the West, with notable exceptions, who study India, are so obsessed with trying to deconstruct her that they have no inclination to do so, or deliberately ignore those activities that articulate and affirm civilisational India.
One of the defining features of this Simhastha Kumbh in Ujjain was the International Vichar Mahakumbh — Vaicharik Kumbh — which saw the convergence of saints, mathadipathis, intellectuals, scholars, public personalities and citizens from across India and the world. Much as in the yore when gatherings of the Kumbh threw up new ideas, new positions and radiated a message of action across most of the continent, the Vichar Mahakumbh also had, as its objective, the proclamation of a ‘Universal Message of Simhastha 2016’.
Both RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in his inaugural address and Prime Minister Modi in his valedictory address stressed on the uniqueness of the Kumbh, which in the past, held among its many activities, sessions of intellectual churning where new ideas, fresh directions were given to society. In fact, Prime Minister Modi made a very interesting analogy when he pointed out how a mega Kumbh took place every 12 years while in the interim, at the interval of every three years, ardha-Kumbhs took place at various locations across the country. These mini-Kumbhs, he pointed out, were a mechanism of making a mid-term appraisal of the progress of the resolves made during the Maha Kumbh. He called upon all the gathered spiritual leaders to organise every year a week-long ‘vichar kumbh’ in their respective areas and organisations so that the intellectual churning for the betterment of society is kept alive.
Themes like climate change, women empowerment, sustainable consumption, Dharma-inspired living, sanitation, value education, challenges of global warming, water scarcity, agriculture, health of rivers were deliberated upon. The 51 point Declaration released at the end of the deliberations in the presence of Prime Minister Modi, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and a host of other leaders and intellectuals from India’s neighbourhood and beyond covered almost all aspects with which the global community is currently grappling. It was a holistic document exuding an integral vision that calls upon the world community to join hands.
As Prime Minister Modi said, “What is happening here is the birth of a new effort, a modern edition of what would happen in the yesteryears, 51 elixir points of this Simhastha declaration, will start a new discourse not only in India but around the world.”