Kumbh Mela: Religion, the Ganges and Robbery

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One of the culprits, enjoying a snack. Photo by Rafaela Schneider
One of the culprits, enjoying a snack. Photo by Rafaela Schneider

He stopped in front of me and grabbed the bag of bananas from my hands abruptly as Greg yelled “Hide the tangerines! Hide the tangerines!”

I had just been mugged by a monkey, and no one around us could hold their laughter.

It took me a while to digest those feelings — something similar had happened to me in the past, but they were homeless kids, not monkeys. Had I just been robbed by a massive simian? How was that even possible?

He shared the stolen goods with his peers and, strangely, was still staring at me. With contempt, he bit his banana in that peculiar way monkeys do — without peeling the skin — as if he was making a point, saying without muttering words: “I’m here, eating your banana, human, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

I was amused and embarrassed — it’s not every day a monkey steals your bananas. For a split second, I felt like going back and strangling that furry beast, but of course I knew better. He was a marauder; just another day in the office.

I decided I’d see that incident as a tax collection — some days you win, some days you lose your bananas.

We carried on down the slope laughing about the episode and actually happy it had happened — it had been rather funny after all. We were faced with crowds again and walked towards the ghat, where the river split and current wasn’t so strong.

We shared the steps with several families, watching many more bathing in the calm waters. Each person was performing a gracious rhythmic dive, immersing themselves under water whilst praying. This ritual was part of the Kumbh Mela, where the Ganges would purify their bodies.

Bathing in the Ganges

We felt compelled to bathe after witnessing such a beautiful spectacle — and because our clothes were sticking to our bodies as it was getting hotter and hotter. We were welcomed with open arms and big smiles and joined the mass of people.

Had we been cleaned? Had we been purified? I don’t know, but the energy around us was so electrifying we could almost feel it.

Not too far away, we saw a quiet area and strolled in its direction, only to be instantly stopped by a police guard. The crime: Greg and Rafa, his wife, were holding hands. After the mild telling off they immediately complied, but we were left wondering how such an innocent act could be disrespectful.

An arrangement in Hadiwar, India. Photo by Rafaela Schneider
An arrangement in Haridwar, India. Photo by Rafaela Schneider

We sat down by the steps as the night was drawing in, listening to chanting and absorbing our surroundings. Candles were slowly being lit and placed over carefully adorned leaves — these offerings would gently float and be carried away by Mother Ganges.

Adhering to the tradition, each of us did the same. I, however, folded a lotus origami and sent it down the river thankful for being part of such a wonderful congregation

Walking back to the car park, we talked about our somewhat unusual day. It had had its ups and downs. The spirituality was always around, manifesting in several ways. The wild fauna was definitely present making sure the banana tax was being collected.

We were left with the tangerines, which at that time, couldn’t be any sweeter.

Author Bio: Guilherme is a Brazilian freelance travel writer. He is the Co-Founder of the Slow Spirit Blog, where he writes about a minimalist, sustainable travel lifestyle.  http://www.slowspirit.com/