Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The great collaboration of religion and capital at the Kumbha : Part I

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Kumbha is India’s investment in spiritualism, say a number of experts but a beautiful nexus between capital market and religious forces is unambiguously displayed everywhere during the festivities. Banks have put up their stalls and big companies are marketing their product handsomely. The biggest irony is that religious forces have their field day and one can realize how many Babas and Sadhus exist in India today. In the Ghats, the business is usual but most of the devotees prefer to go to Sangam where they will get ‘nirwana’.

Much has been glorified about the Kumbha fair and its spiritual and scientific side. Many scientists are saying that the Ganga water has power to energize people and bathing together help strengthen the vital resistance of the body. The arrangements are definitely better though many people feel that this time the Kumbha is not that attractive as it used to be but the fact is that the administration has made enough arrangements to make things easier for pilgrims. A glimpse at various stalls started by the Dharm-gurus shows that ‘customers’ are not coming to the stalls in that large number as they would have expected.

The irony is that the Babas are not really interested in Indian followers. Attempt is made to attract the foreign visitors. A white skinned person is much in demand at these ashrams and stalls. If you are travelling along with a foreign friend then rest assure that you are not wanted by any of these Babas. Europeans, Americans are in high demand and the Babas look for them. It is shameful to say the least. The technological advancements have helped the religious gangs a lot and with capital in their hands, they have used it for their own purposes. At these stalls we see the laser/PowerPoint presentation by various religious groups. You can see heaven and hell through these presentations and how to better our lives through spiritual discourse. There is a big hoarding of a particular Swamy talking about ‘saving the daughters’. The organizations like VHP harp only on the issues of ‘ Hindus are not united and endangered’. They have opposed the usage of Ramlala on the cloths and termed it an insult. Another slogan which has been highlighted by VHP is the issue of ‘infiltrators’ and illegal immigrants in India which according to them would reduce Hindus to minority. Kumbha is related to Lord Shiva but the huge stalls at the Kumbha have only Rama as their God and it reflect the real changing times in India where Rama becomes the symbol of the political Hinduism that has even bitten the Dalai Lama who is in the controversy at the Kumbha. It is not really surprising to see him in the company of Ashok Singhal who invited him for a VHP programme in Kumbha. The Sadhus and Sants are divided as many have opposed Dalai Lama’s visit on known ground that Buddhism and Hinduism do not go together while those closed to Ashok Singhal felt that Buddhism is part of Hinduism. It is sad that Dalai Lama has allowed himself being used by the narrow communal organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishads who spread hatred and communalism openly even during these times. Buddhism in India has not been revived by Dalai Lama but by Dr Ambedkar and it need to be evaluated that way. Those who want to make Buddhism, a duplicate copy of varnashram dharma, should understand that Buddha revolted against the caste system. The opposition to Dalai Lama by the several Sadhus is based purely on the conflicting nature of Hinduism with Buddhism. Ashok Singhal is a political person and knows that a good will of Buddhist world over would help them gain legitimacy of their agenda. Everywhere, VHP hoardings are communalizing things, talking of ‘infiltration’ and now they are challenging that the photos of Ramlala on the cloths is an insult to Rama.

There are huge pandals of every guru which shows how much money they possess. Most of them are talking nothing but all greatness of their spiritual values. Through various exhibitions they are also showing us what heaven is and what hell is. Local people visit the stalls every day but it looks that Kumbha is lacking people this time.

On the bank of Ganga, the priests are performing their Artis. They have the field day as it is the biggest congregation of Hindus world over and a huge number of people come to them and ask for their guidance and hence their importance has suddenly gone up. Normally, people are going to their relative camps but most of them looked emptied. Perhaps, people thronged to those camps just for the sake of staying there.

Though the administration has done enough to control the crowed and all the nights we have loud speakers roaring with Hanuman Chalisha and Ram Charit Manas. The most surprising thing for me is the presence of ‘Sant Ravidas Mandal’ in the Kumbha fair. ‘ Why are you here’, I ask Sadho Singh Maharaj, who is along with his wife has come from village Deoria and add Ravidas Maharaj had always said that ‘ man changa to Katauti me ganga’, i.e. if your heart is clean, there is Ganga there. You do not get purified with a dip in Ganga. Sadho Singh Maharaj says that the Kumbha is a brahmanical fair and it is dominated by these forces and actively supported by the capitalists. It has been difficult journey for him to have Pandal. What I like about him that he does not have faith in Kumbha but he is here to register his presence. Ravidasji Maharaj was the greatest human being and world has acknowledged him. Baba Saheb gave us constitution, he says and these priests want to reverse that order and impose Manusmriti on us he says. But he is aware of the fact that he had strong adversaries around so he keeps quiet.

Kumbha is nothing but religion and market and both are helping each other. Small vendors are being charged heavily by mela administration. For small roadside tea shop, a local informed that he is paying about Rs 3,200 rupees. His sale has reduced. ‘Sir, it does not look a Kumbha fair. We have not received much crowd here. At the tea shop, I offer tea to a devotee from Bihar who informs me that he is here at the camp of Mastane Baba. If counting starts, we will find how and why this country has so many Babas surviving on the government and capital patronage. A friend from Italy says, it is the best combination of alliance between religion and power and that is more dangerous for the country.

It is tragic that politics of domination is being played at Kumbha. The corporate greed has always helped the religious rights to fix their agenda. The corporates for their own benefits can go to any extent and if you see an advertisement of ‘sale of Ayurvedik oil’, a woman is clinging to the ‘shiva lingam’ is simply offensive to say the least. The crowds at the markets are swelling and lapping up every free product.

In the heart of Kumbha, the Humanise India journey raised some uncomfortable questions. Yes, the Ganga will be polluted with more people washing their sins and dirty linens there. Shockingly, we are reading daily doses in the newspapers about the ‘collective bathing’ and the scientific impact on the human minds. It look that the Indian scientists are first serving their brahmanical interest and then science. How can the scientists that Ganga water is ‘healthier’ when it is getting filthier and dirtier day by day and no concerted efforts have been made to cleanse it? How can so many thousands people bathing together help grow the health of the people.

Kumbha has been profiled highly by the Indian ruling brahmanical elite as biggest congregation. It is nothing but congregation of religious politics and reviving the status quoist values in India at the expense of state exchequer. In front of the big Pandals, I see with painful eyes, a young girl making bed for her parents under the open sky. The night and mornings have seen dense fog here but the contractors of religion have no time as their spiritualism is aimed at attracting more ‘western’ audiences. It is shameful and shows the hypocrisy of the entire show. As the might show goes on showing India’s ‘great’ ‘spiritual’ heritage, there are highly uncomfortable questions in Kumbha which will come to you tomorrow in the second part of the report.

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