Naga Sadhus & The Gangasagar Mela
A dip in ganga on day of Makar Sankranti is considered auspicious. In West Bengal it is celebrated as Gangasagar Mela.
It is also called Gangasagar fair, is the largest mela in West Bengal held on Sankranti and the fair is held in the place where the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal form a connection together.
Here is a list showing 7 interesting things about this fair:-
- Visit the nearby famous Kapil Muni Temple
You must have heard about the Kapil Muni Temple, which is not far from the fair. Built in 1973, it has a history which says that three previous temples in its place were washed away by the sea and storm.
Most pilgrims usually head to this temple after taking a dip into the waters, so, you must be careful to avoid excessive rush. But it’s definitely going to be a new experience!
- Second biggest fair after the Kumbh Mela
All of us know how huge the Kumbh Mela is in scale and how many people gather there every year.
The Gangasagar pilgrimage and fair comes second to the former in terms of human footfall. While the Kumbh Mela comes after four years, and is held at different locations of the north, central and central-west parts of the country, the Gangasagar Mela is observed annually and only on Sagardwip (Sagar Island).
- Mention of Gangasagar pilgrimage in tales of mythology
Gangasagar finds mention in various works of literature since a very long time. It can be traced back to early ages when the epics were being written.
The Ramayana and The Mahabharata have mentions of Gangasagar. The place has also found in many other tales of Hindu Mythology.
A poem by Rabindranath Tagore and a novel by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay are also dedicated to this Mela!
- Sagar Lighthouse: A must visit
There is a lighthouse at Sagardwip which works as a vantage point for observers and visitors who wish to get a full view of the beautiful sea and silvery beaches.
The beach has not been much affected by tourism and therefore the nascent charm still remains. From here, you will be able to have a glance of the beauty of Nature at its best!
- Chilly weather: No big deal for pilgrims
This is something you will keep wondering while your way back home! During Makar Sankranti, which usually falls on the 14th or 15th of January, temperatures are extremely low and can even go down to 9 degrees.
But once you are there you will notice pilgrims of all ages (mostly old) taking a dip into the waters right in the morning. Its not actually morning, it’s dawn.
The temperature close to the sea is slightly moderate, but that does not explain this in any way. How cold must it be and how devoted the pilgrims must be.
- Naga Sadhus and Sanyasis become common sight
Among thousands of pilgrims who attend Gangasagar Mela are the Naga Sadhus. They live in camps, where they perform rituals. These rituals are attended by many devotees.
They even perform various forms of yoga, which is meant for others to watch. You will be amazed at how flexible they are at this. Some Naga Sadhus have white paint smeared all over their bodies and some are without it.
These Naga Sadhus are one of the biggest attractions in the Gangasagar Mela.
- Take many sweets back home
It’s the time of Makar Sankranti and it’s the time for sweets! Nolen Gur or date jaggery is available at this time of the year and is vital ingredient used in all sweets and desserts preparations.
Bengali sweet tooth satiates its buds at this time of the year with a large variety of sweet preparations. Some of the most popular methais prepared at this time are – Pithe, Patishapta, Dudh Puli, and Nolen Gurer Shondesh to name a few.
These are delicacies you must have when you visit this Gangasagar.
Apart from the general pilgrims, the assemblage of Naga Sadhus here gives a unique identity to this fest. The Naga Sadhus have unique characteristic features drawing inspiration from the famous Hindu god Shiva.
They hold tridents crowned with human skulls. Their bodies are smeared in thick ash and they wear heavy coils of matted hair on the head. These saints remain completely naked even during biting cold.
They smoke Marijuana through a pipe called a Chillum or Shiv Muli. They use it as a tool to avoid the worldly distraction yet have self-control even in the intoxicated state. But as they advance in spiritual life they renounce intoxication too.
The Naga Sadhus renounce the materialistic world and practice celibacy to escape from the cycle of birth and death and to attend salvation. As they belong to the Shaivite sect, they have matted locks of hair and their bodies are covered in ash like Lord Shiva.
The Naga Sadhus – part of a mysterious and secret society – are worshippers of Lord Shiva. Nag means ‘naked’ and hence they are known as Nag Babas or Warrior-Ascetics.
Marijuana comes from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. It has an active ingredient called THC that makes you feel high.
THC and other compounds in marijuana can also affect the way your body works. Inhaling Marijuana makes a person feel dizzy and eyes become red.
I took these pictures during my pilgrimage trip in Kolkata, in West Bengal during Makar Sankranti. It is held in the month of January near Babughat Transit camp, Kolkata where the Naga Sadhus used to come and stay for some days.
After few days they go to the Ganga river to take the holy bath. Hundreds of sadhus, some smeared with ash and some with vermilion and sandalwood paste, perform pujas and yagnas here for days.
They spend their days smoking marijuana and they cover their bodies with ashes.
This particular shot where a naga is exhaling smoke through his nostrils was taken when I was passing through the camps, suddenly I saw this Sadhu smoking Marijuana through a Chillum.
The exhaling style of the smokes and the Red Eyes makes him unique. Then I quickly moved towards him and took the shot. Here in this image the effects of marijuana are fully expressed by the person.
I am grateful that I have found the moment and the person in the image allowed me to take the shot.