As fate and karma would have it, I attended the 1995 Kumbha Mela festival in India, where Babaji appeared to me. This Mela was the ardh or six-year festival, with only ten million sadhu, holy men and spiritual seekers in attendance, compared to the twelve-year cycle Maha Kumbha Mela that often reaches even greater numbers, like up to seventy million souls. It is believed that this Kumbha Mela has been going on as far back as nearly 3500 BC. To even be here, is the equivalent of a thousand other pilgrimages! When we approached the confluence of the Ganges, Saraswati and Yamuna Rivers, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. My good God! Mahadeva! This gig made a Rainbow gathering look like a small cocktail party. This was the adult dose of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It’s so big that it can actually be seen from satellites in outer space. This gig in the flood plain of the Ganges River at Allahabad is like two miles wide and seven miles long!
My traveling companions and I each got our own bicycle rickshaw, as we were packing a lot of luggage along. Belgium Mark lent me his chimtah – a huge tweezers-looking tambourine instrument. I used it for jamming with the holy songs blaring from the bell speakers atop telephone poles. The energy of this opening night was as intense as it gets and loud- very loud. I’ve never felt anything even close to this and I’ve been to many concerts, including seeing The Beatles three times! We had copies of a shrunken-down map covering 200,000 acres with street names. We were trying to locate our guru Babaji’s camp, in this monstrous, moon- lit city of canvas tents and intense noise. It would take our poor, frustrated rickshaw wallahs over two hours to locate the Om Namah Shivaya tents – ironically just down the road from Yogananda’s Yogoda Satsanga Society camp. We were located at
Moarie Road and Sangum Crossing on this Friday the 13th, February full moon, opening night, 1995. The rush doesn’t quit here. There is just too much happening all the time.
When my poor driver finally paused in total confusion, exhaustion and desperation, the large crowd around me suddenly opened up, like Moses parting the Red Sea. A male figure was approaching me and the closer he got, the faster the changes occurred inside of me. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone again. My mind slowed way down and the only internal sensing I remember, knew that this man here, now in front of me, knew everything about me- good and bad and about those ten grams of hash I’d eaten on the bus ride here. This was Babaji, in person and this time, I finally recognized Him! He could have cared less about the charis I’d eaten.
With unblinking, piercing black eyes, He looked deeply into me and then asked in perfect English, “Are you having fun?” I couldn’t find my voice to reply. He wore a wool sweater and topi cap, which He was noted for in His previous incarnation as old Herakhan Baba. Then He melted into the crowd, quickly disappearing. It has been said that Babaji always attends every Kumbha Mela, in some form or another.
Suddenly, the sights and sounds of the Mela hit me full force again, like waking up from a dream or pressing play after a DVD has been on pause. Belgium Mark and German Kalavati were behind me, oblivious to what had just transpired. They were still upset as to how we would ever find our Herakhan camp amongst ten million busy souls.
Before we finally did locate our haven of refuge, the crowd began prostrating themselves flat out on the ground. Now what was happening? As we watched in bewilderment, here came six of the largest decorated elephants I’d ever seen. On top of each sat ancient-looking kings or maharajas, looking like they’d just ridden across India in some time warp to even be here. I wanted to scream my guts out! Yes! Here was the Eternal India of my childhood dreams. At the Herakhan camp, we were welcomed with open arms and loaded chillums. We were among the very first to arrive into this sanctuary of peace- to finally be separated physically from the tumultuous masses of the Mela and have some semblance of personal space. Mark and I had our own large army tent, perfect for soldiers of God. We decorated our space with the newly purchased batiks we’d bought in Varanasi prior to coming here. A thick straw ground covering was our mattress. It actually seemed like a modern day miracle that we ever even found this small camp, amongst the hundreds of thousands of other such tent compounds. A beautiful Italian Madonna named Titti was our acting pujari for camp worship services. There was a separate tent here, serving as the temple compound. I lent Titti my son’s bronze Ganesh statue I’d bought in Varanasi for him. She’d bathe the small elephant daily at 4 a.m., and then apply fresh chundun and the sacred silk thread to it. This was a great blessing that I wanted for my young, faraway son, estranged from me due to divorce. I prayed that maybe someday he would come to understand the significance of my journey here, and come to know that he is always with me - like Babaji - even though we may be far apart.