Friday, January 11, 2013

Gangasagar Pilgrimage – An Exercise In Disbelief

When you see a large congregation of mankind in the month of chilling January takes the holy dip in Ganga, you force to think what oblige them to trouble their bodies and finances coming from thousands of kilometres, from different nooks and corners of India. Is it faith alone? Or is it some delusion that rooted so deep in the hearts to give them such nonordinate reality in front of them.  We are not lucky to see Kumbh every year, but Gangasagar Fair or (better to say) pilgrimage, is the second largest gathering of humans after Kumbh Mela. The famous maxim about Gangasagar is ‘“Sab tirath bar bar, Gangasagar ekbar”, which means all pilgrimages several times, but one time Gangasagar worth a life-time. Earlier times it was really a difficult task to reach this pilgrimage because of the arduous journey one had to cover before reach the Sagar Island. Gangasagar pilgrimage is unique in a way because it happens on the Sagar Island’s southern tip in the Ganges delta over the Bay of Bengal Sea. 

Women drying their sarees
Gangasagar Fair is inevitably Sadhus affair. During the fair, you can a see a fascinating assemblage of sadhus from all over India; so many different lineages and backgrounds, different ethnicity and aura. Some are devotee of Lord Shiva smeared ash all over their bodies, some are Kali worshiper. Some are saffron clad; some are black robbed drink from skull. Small turban, big turban, naked, covered, leopard skirts, dhotis…the immense diversity of sadhus makes a different world in this 3 million populated Sagar Island. 

Naga Sanyasis are the main draw of the fair
Gangasagar dip is considered holy by pilgrims because on the Makara Sankranti when the sun makes a transition to Capricorn from Sagittarius and due to Kapil Muni, a venerated seer who was one of the founder of Samkhya Philosophy in Upanishad. A dip in the Sagar undone all your sins, so, a large flock of devotees from different part of India comes for a dip in the chilling January month to wash away all sins. 

Photo Credit goes to Swarnava Chakraborty
The religious fervour minimizes the arduous journey where people are ferrying via steamers and heavy vehicle vessels to the Sagar Island. The problem of traveling doesn’t deter even old aged people, even if you observe you feel the fair is all about villagers and people with less or bare minimum money who save their money for this time of the year, and spend it in Gangasagar. Ceaseless din of loudspeaker, chanting, music and announcements make the environment a bit clamorous. 

How to Reach Gangasagar?

Gangasagar morning bath
Situated on the tip of the Sagar Island, Gangasagar Fair is celebrated in a large ground guarded by Bay of Bengal. The place is roughly 124 km away from Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal. Although the distance seems not to much but to reach there in the month of fair is a tough proposition. 

Pawan Muni, 106 year, never avail any mode of transport
If you want to go by your own vehicle then go to Lot No. 8 via Diamond Harbour, then book your ticket in vessel and stand in queue with your car. The vessel timing is irregular and largely depends on tidal movement of Ganges. Due to nearest of Sea, Ganges frequently is having low and high tide. During the high tide the vessels move with vehicles (including buses and trucks) to Kachuberia. Gangasagar is approximately 30 km from Kachuberia, so you can drive all way to fair ground.

Women perform morning tarpan
If you are coming from train, avail EMU train services from Kolkata (Sealdah) down to Kakdwip local/Namkhana local to alight. From Kakdwip railway station, proceed to Lot No.8 (6km from station) and cross the Muriganga River via ferry launches. At Namkhana railway station, you can avail wooden launch services by Bengal Launch Owners Association (BLOA) to reach Chemaguri and from Chemaguri you need to take buses to reach the fairground(approx.. 11km). This route is risky because boats only ferry till 4pm and very infrequent. 

A sect of Sadhus wear not a piece of cloth even in winter

Shelter, Food & Communication

There is no hotel, no resting place in Gangasagar. However, the government of West Bengal organises temporary shelters for pilgrims. There are temporary latrines and cooking arrangement where you can avail government priced cereals, sugar, rice and common food items. Facilities like mobile telephones, land line, ATM are there. 

There is also a Youth Hostel in the fairground. You can also avail rooms if you are a member of Youth Hostel. 

Medical Facilities in Gangasagar

The Government of West Bengal and the office of the CMOH, South 24-Parganas is entrusted for medical activities in Gangasagar Fair. They run quite smoothly all activities with adequate facilities like temporary hospitals in the Fair ground and Rudranagar (13km from fairground), Kachuberia (30km), Chemaguri (11km), Namkhana and Lot 8 point. From Kolkata, doctors and nurses are assigned for specialised duty during the Mela. 

Investigation facilities like blood test, ECG, X-ray are available. Some UNICEF volunteers also do some work regarding polio immunization and other. Even, I saw a temporary post mortem facility in Rudranagar.
Scavenging services are also done hospital staff with the help of Mela Committee. There are sufficient numbers of saline, blood and stretchers are available to cope with any emergency.

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