They arrived on horses, some on chariots, wielding swords and sticks, bodies covered in ash. Before sunrise on Tuesday, the procession of thousands of sadhus painted Prayagraj a bright orange with their poshak (attire), as they began their walk to the Triveni Sangam for the first “shahi snaan” – royal bath – of Kumbh Mela this year.
As sadhus from 13 akharas — including sadhvis, and Naga sadhus, who replace clothes with ash — walked to the banks of the Sangam, a platoon of security officers walked with them, often at the cost of being hit by a stick by a sadhu. An equal number of devotees walked next to the sadhus, who danced and chanted “Har Har Mahadev.”
“We were up all night to catch a glimpse of the sadhus embracing Ganga Ma. It’s our first time – bahut paagalpan thha unki aankhon mein, yahi swarg hai, hai na (there was madness in their eyes, this is heaven, right?),” asked Murari Singh (38), a carpenter, who had come with his family from Sambhal district of western UP.
The dreadlocks and beads of the sadhus left Kumbh first-timer Parth Hundiwale (14), from Vidarbha, Maharashtra, excited enough to nearly make a career choice. He wondered whether this is his future, much to the shock of his father, a farmer. “I can grow my hair, put white paste all over me, and just travel to religious places. They look like heroes,” the teen said.
Talking statistics, Dilip Kumar Tripurayan, ADM, Kumbh, said, “From 3 am to 6 pm on Tuesday, at least 1.36 crore people took a dip.”
Among those was Union minister Smriti Irani. “Irani attended the Mela in her personal capacity. We did not give any special protocol – she did not visit the ghat where the shahi snaan took place,” a Kumbh official told The Indian Express.
Adding more colour to the procession of sadhus on Tuesday morning was the Kinnar Akhada, led by transgender rights activist Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, 41. This is the first time Kinnar Akhada, formed in 2015, participated in the royal bath at Prayagraj. Tripathi, dressed in a Benaresi saree with matching jewels, trademark big bindi and vermilion, took a dip with other transgender members of the akhada.
She had arrived with fanfare on a tractor-turned-chariot.
“This is the first time that Juna Akhada, considered one of the most rigid and orthodox custodians of the Vedic Sanatan Dharma, have accepted us,” Tripathi said, hours after the bath. “On Sunday, we signed an agreement with Juna akhada – we agreed that kinnars deserve their own akhada. We are taking part in this as a separate group, not as part of another akhada. I am just reclaiming my place lost in history.”
Since 2016, Tripathi and the Juna Akhada have been talking about Kinnar Akhada’s participation in the Kumbh royal bath. “After disagreements, and different perspectives, we found common ground. Mainstream society takes away our dignity, but here we get acceptance,” Tripathi, who was also a model coordinator, aspiring actor, and participant in reality shows such as ‘Bigg Boss 5’, said.