There was a time when India was considered a country of snakes, snake charmers and magic. This misconception was spread by people who knew nothing about India. But today India is seen as intellectual and spiritual leader that has made remarkable progress in a number of fields including history and geography.
This is evident from the large number of foreigners visiting the ongoing Ardh Kumbh. Arrivals of foreigners at the Ardh Kumbh have jumped 35 per cent since 2013, the last time the mela was held at Prayagraj.
The fair is also attracting travellers from unconventional countries. Mela organizers have noticed big surge in international queries to Allahabad for January to March and most of it can be attributed to the Ardh Kumbh mela. The mela — as always — has seen tourists from several countries including the US, Canada, Bhutan, Malaysia and South Africa.
However, this time travellers have also come from countries like Egypt, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Over 192 countries received an official invitation from the government to become a part of the world’s biggest cultural and faith congregation.
For the first time akhadas will confer the prestigious title of mahamandaleshwar on nine foreign seers in a single ceremony in Kumbh Mela.
Seers are known as ‘mahamandaleshwars’ when they are elevated by their peers to the highest level of traditional, Hindu spiritual guardianship. According to the representatives of the ‘akhada’, these foreign nationals are being appointed as ‘mahamandaleshwars’ in view of their dedication towards spreading the principles of ‘Sanatan Dharm’ all over the world. These foreign seers, three of them being young women, are from Japan, Chile, Israel and the United States.
Foreigners are among the ascetics, saints, sadhus and spectators thronging the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers. A record 22.5 million people plunged into the waters on the first day of the Kumbh.
Many of the foreigners at the Kumbh are simple tourists though, keen to see the ash-smeared, pipe-smoking Naga sadhus, naked except for beads and flower garlands. One ascetic has had his right arm raised for seven years. Another has been standing for eight months and aims to do so for another 43 months.