A holy river, a sea of humanityUjjain Simhastha is a Hindu festival worth marvelling at. A tradition that has been in practice since the 18th century, the month-long fair attracted an estimated 75 million devotees this year, including 10,000 tourists from around the world.
Text & Photos: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi
Ujjain Simhastha is a Hindu festival worth marvelling at. A tradition that has been in practice since the 18th century, the month-long fair attracted an estimated 75 million devotees this year, including 10,000 tourists from around the world.
Simhastha takes place once every 12 years in Madhya Pradesh, India, and is one of the four Kumbha Melas. It is believed that as the masses bathe in the purity of the Shipra River—on the banks of which the city of Ujjain is located—they become inspired to gravitate towards the path of selflessness, service, peace and non-violence, while purifying their sins. The Naga babas, naked ascetics with their skin smeared with ash, gather in the thousands for the festival. It is believed that devotees receive religious purity when they worship and cleanse in the river with these otherwise recluse babas.
During the festival, devotees adopt a vegetarian diet and shun the intake of alcohol and drugs. Another major attraction of the festival is the Godavari temple. The temple gates open only once in 12 years during the festival to let in the multitudes of eager worshippers. At other times, devotees pray from outside the temple gates. Apart from Godavari, there are 108 other temples in the vicinity. Ram, Sita, and Laxman are believed to have spent some years of Ram’s 14 year exile around this area. Also, the monkey God Hanuman was said to have been born approximately eight kilometres away near the Ajneri hill.
The pulls of this religious fete are many, the motivations of the manifold devotees varied. But once here at the sweltering banks of the holy Shipra, lost amid a crowd of humanity, these petty personal aspirations wilt away. You cannot help but become one with the vibrant energy that envelops the city once every decade. And for once, the path to moksha seems simple and attainable, albeit a little crowded. Very crowded.