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At Kumbh 2019, 10,000 people have pledged themselves to a life of austerity

PW Bureau 

During the ceremony, the individuals seeking to be initiated as Naga sadhus had their hair cut off before performing an after-death ritual and taking part in a night-long sacred fire ceremony Haridwar/Allahabad: The world’s largest religious festival, Kumbh Mela, this year has served as an initiation ground of sorts for 10,000 youths, including men and women, who decided to denounce worldly affairs and pledge themselves to a life of austerity by becoming Naga sadhus. Those who took the pledge of austerity came from varied backgrounds and included engineers and management graduates. During the ceremony, the individuals seeking to be initiated had their hair cut off, leaving out only a tuft of hair known as ‘shikha’ at the back of the heads, and performed their own after-death ritual (pind-daan). They also took part in a night-long sacred fire ceremony.

Mauni Amavasya

The recruits took a holy dip in the Ganga on Mauni Amavasya, the most auspicious day of the festival, on February 4. To achieve spiritual growth, the Naga order, as part of practices, will have its seers executing extreme penances by staying naked and pushing their bodies to the extremities. The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), apex body of the country’s akharas (sect of seers), estimate that more than 10,000 men and women have taken deeksha (initiation) to become Naga sadhus this Kumbh at Allahabad.

People from any religion, caste accepted

Regarding the backgrounds of those becoming Nagas, Mahant Hari Giri, chief convener of Juna akhara and general secretary of ABAP, said, “Any person who has a strong desire for vairagya (detachment) irrespective of caste, colour or religion is eligible to become a Naga. Many Muslims have been accepted as have several Christians and people from other religions. So have people who have earlier been doctors or engineers.” “We test aspirants for years to see whether they are here to stay or have just decided to become a sadhu either due to a whim or after a crisis. Only when they prove themselves after being put through tests, and we are satisfied, are they ordained as a Naga,” said Giri.