The Ghost Dip: My Kumbh Experience

It was the day of the 'Silent Moonless Night' when my friend Keshav and I walked and walked on a road of sand and footprints and many bridges. Perhaps a distance of six kilometres. We walked bare-feet with about a million other feet. Strangers, whose paths we may have only touched tangentially at say a traffic stop or a train station, became fellow-travellers and confidants in this walk over sand, footprints and bridges.
Pic by Keshav C
Back-stories were shared. Of how ordinary men who had committed acts of sizzling cruelty had changed after becoming sadhus. One young man told me how he had became a 'bhagoda' (a man on the run) after he'd rammed his jeep into a cop because he had beaten him up for no reason. "After that I never looked back… just drove on and on and on… when I reached home I was new person. Ready to leave everything I had known in my earlier life," he explained. After his admission to the akhara he got a new name and a new life as a sadhu. Another, Captain Baba, a veteran of three wars, too dropped everything to enter the akhara. He said the memories of the wars were driving him mad.

We walked with the sadhus. On a road especially barricaded for them. To separate them from the common devotees. And on this road they danced and sang and performed their peculiar acrobatics. It was also a show of strength and fervour. To the birds above we may have seemed like a giant snake. Blackish and sprinkled with saffron, lazily slithering towards the river. Or rivers. We were headed to where three rivers--two visible and one imagined--meet. At the water's edge our snake split into its human parts--like a powder explosion--and entered the rivers' meeting point.

"We're actually ghosts," our guide had told us the night before, "because we perform our own last rites before we become sadhus." Our guide left his home at 18 and never went back. Today he's doubled those years without any visible regrets. It's as if he's found his people in the sadhu samaj. "For us," he explained, "the past and the future both are dead. What we occupy is a strange country where the 'nowness' never ends. And this is your time to experience it... here in this 'momentary heaven'."

The dip is a ritual, that happens every 12 years. It's smaller version happens every six and is called the Ardh Kumbh or the 'Half Urn'. The story goes that drops from the celestial urn fell at a few places during a grabfest between the gods and the demons. There are four places in India that host the Kumbh and the Ardh Kumbh in their 12 and 6-year cycles. This year the Ardh Kumbh was in Allahabad. And we were there for the big dip on January 19th, the day of the Silent Moonless Night or Mauni Amavasya.

The day when a million sins are washed away by a single dip.


  1. I've heard a few accounts like this. great that you could know the sanyasis first hand. btw, nicely written.

  2. i envy you so much... that you could do that... we gotta go together in six years :D

    missed you for a while there.

  3. Very interesting post! Interesting tales of the sadhus' earlier life!

  4. Interesting. I can't help but see the similarity of the Christian religion. Baptism is the old being immersed under water and raising up a new person cleansed of past sins. Born again.

  5. there are more similarities between religions than we care to look for.
    i suppose we don't see them, because we are too busy trying to find the differences to make ourselves seem special beings by virtue of a special religion.


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