Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Merging of faith

Saab teerth baar baar, Ganga Sagar Ek Baar!
The chorus of the devotees filled the air. Omnipresent, as it seems, this adage can be heard in every nook and cranny of the island, the pilgrims proudly proclaiming this age old couplet to boost themselves. Years back, pilgrims was treading the hard clay soil of the holy island of Sagar, where every year lakhs of devotees throng to take a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. The soil - where through hundreds of years, or probably thousands - followers of Hinduism gathered in the end of the month of Pous (From middle of Dec to middle of Jan) to wash off their sins in the holy Ganges and make arrangements for the eternal journey after their death. And to follow this ritual thousands died en route in the treacherous terrain where hungry Royal Bengal tigers prowled in the land and crocodiles swarmed the boats in the river.  To top up this cup of misery,  looters and thugs maraud  throughout the entire journey. Thus the couplet which meant “repeat all pilgrimages but Gangasagar for only once” was more than justified in those days. Now all those dangers have been buried in the sands of time; only the couplet remained. 

I came to this island from Kolkata. I took a train from Sealdah and got down at Kakdwip 90kms away. The distance from the railway station to the jetty can be walked or can be traversed atop a van rickshaw. The jetty is called Lot No 8 which along with a ramp came into existence in 1990. When I reached there I was sucked into the crowd, jostling to take the ferry to cross over. Luckily the time of my arrival matched with the tide as during low tides or dead low water, ferry stops. Sagar Island, the last delta on the western fringe of the Sunderbans, is cut off from the main land by a canal of the main river Ganga. It's called the Canal Creek and locally, Muriganga. The ferry charge goes up from Rs. 6/- to Rs. 45/- during the Sagar Mela (fair). The Motor Launch of West Bengal water transport took us to Kochuberia on the opposite bank in the Sagar Island. One can also travel farther south up to Namkhana and cross the creek and land up at Chemagudi, 9 km away from the actual spot. The ferry charge is higher (Rs80/-) and the distance traveled in steamer is much more. From Chemagudi buses,  rickshaws or vans are available but not as frequent as in Kachuberia.

I took a bus from Kachuberia, traveled from the north to the southern tip of the island taking the 30 km long Sagar Main Road. While the bus traveled through the verdant green fields of this Island I thought what has brought me to this place? Is there some de javu of past life waiting for me? I have heard people left their old in this island at the mercy of Mother Nature. Some survived most died. Infertile couples used to pledge their first offspring to “Ma Ganga” if they become fertile by God’s grace. So many souls entwined with their own sad tales fill this island’s air, I thought. I have not come for the holy dip. I just wanted to get the feel of this fair and witness the feel of myth that has cast its spell on the devotee’s god fearing mind.

Well, time for some mythology then. Long ago a sage called Kapil Muni came to this island to do Tapasya. At around the same time King Sagar of Ayodhya went on to do Aswamedha Yajna. The horse went to the ashram of sage Kapil and disturbed him. Enraged, the sage tied it at one corner. King Sagar dispatched his sixty thousand sons to bring it back. They poked the saint out of his meditation and barged in to take away the horse. Kapil Muni got so furious that his anger burnt all of them alive. Bhagirath, one of the descendants of Sagar came to seek Kapil’s mercy. Upon his advice Bhagirath went to Devi Ganga, who flowed through the plane of India to meet the Island at the Bay of Bengal where the mortal remains of the sons were present. Being washed, these souls got liberated once and for all. That was the day of “Pous Shankranti” – the last day of the month of Pous. To commemorate this event pilgrims throng this Island for ages to seek redemption from their wrongdoings in this life.

I landed on the temporary bus stand and proceeded to the Ramakrishna Mission’s Temporary dormitory. Thin layer of straw was strewn on the concrete floor and the walls were ofHogla leaves (a palm like leaf). All the makeshift tents were of Hogla leaves. There were almost two hundred of them. The ones of R.K. Mission, Iskon , Bharat Sevashrama Sangha and Bastra Babsaye Samity (an NGO) are bigger with toilets and free food. It is hard to get on spot accommodation. It is better to contact them well in advance at their Kolkata office for bookings.

I came out to have a cup of tea and take a stroll. The sun was setting in the west and the russet sky reflected in the ripples of the holy flow. Breeze from the North was pinching my dry skin. I saw naked sadhus in the midst of the crowd swaying their bun and beard to make a point to his disciples who listened in rapt attention. In between his Chillum glowed and smell of ganja filled the air. Hinduism at its best and worst- belief and deceit laid cheek by jowl. I turned towards the Kapil Muni temple. In 1822 the original mandir was engulfed by the sea. The next went into it in 1973, when a mahanta of Ayodha rebuilt it.
.In the early morning I saw lakhs of devotees taking a dip in the divine confluence. Priests were making a quick buck by chanting mantras and selling and reselling the calves to his clients who finger-printed them with vermillion so as to locate them in their journey to heaven. Strange rituals rule the roost and that too for ages. Shivering the pilgrims returned to the temple to offer their prayers to Kapil Muni with their inner conviction guarding their bare skin. Soon I returned to have my morning cuppa. Its time to leave.

Its time to go back, to the world of hardcore materialism, only a hundred Km away.
Courtesy : Orissa Post