Kumbh Mela and the Trope of Lost Brothers - Priyanka Basu

The digital age has lost the famous motif of ‘lost and found in Kumbh mela’ which was very popular in the Bollywood films of 1980s. Do Anjane (1976) , a Hindi language drama film directed by Dulal Guha, projected a wealthy family who had lost their son Naresh in the Kumbh Mela. After many years , Amit , an injured young man with his lost memory , was found in Nashik , is believed to be their lost son. Bollywood film Mela (1971) portrays the theme of ‘bicchade huye bhai’(separated brothers) at fair. Many other films like Mera Gaon Mera Dosh (1971), Kati Patang (1971), Khel Khilari Ka (1977), , Sanam Teri Kasam (1982), Manzil Manzil (1984) dealt with the recurrent theme of ‘lost and found’. Not only Bollywood , but Bengali feature film Amrita Kumbher Sandhane (1982) directed by Dilip Roy also features the Kumbh Mela. Even today jokes are cracked on the theme of lost brothers at Kumbh Mela. Now the question is, did people really get lost at Kumbh Mela? Moreover, were they found anymore? Do people lost in Kumbh Mela in the present years also?

Kumbh Mela is a major pilgrimage and festival of Hindus. It is celebrated at four river-bank pilgrimage sites in a cycle of twelve years : Ganges-Yamuna-Saraswati rivers confluence (Allahabad), Ganges (Haridwar), Godavari (Nashik), Shipra (Ujjain). Hindu philosopher and saint Adi Shankara is credited as an organizer of the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela is known for attracting significant numbers of people from all over the country for centuries. The Kumbh Mela was also a place for “commercial events, initiation of new recruits to the akharas, prayers and community singing, spiritual discussions, education and a spectacle” (Wikipedia). Bathing and praying in the river is the central ritual of Kumbh Mela. As CBS News Sunday Morning , a popular American show covered Haridwar’s Kumbh Mela and called it “ The Largest Pilgrimage on Earth “ on 18 April 2010, Kumbh Mela is indeed a place of world’s largest religious gathering. In the year 2007, 70 million pilgrims attended the Ardha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad where as in 2013, Allahabad Kumbh Mela witnessed 120 million visitors. The largest attendance is seen at Maha Kumbh of Allahabad. According to Maclean, the people who gathered at the Kumbh Mela themselves state that, the part of the glory of the festival lies in the “ feeling of brotherhood and love “ where millions peacefully gather in harmony at the river banks (76). This large gathering often resulted in the loss of many people including children at Kumbh Mela. Traffickers used to target the young children by claiming that the lost children belong to them. But in the age of 4G, these problems are getting solved to a great extent. The authorities now become more alert while handling the lost children to their parents. Mobile phones help to take a picture of the children with their guardians at the time of handing them over. The guardianship of the parents is needed to be proved at police station. Due to the heavy crowd many people get estranged every year. So, the lost and found issue is not only a rumour but a reality. Bollywood presents this reality with some extra spices where young siblings lost and met each other only as adults. 

According to the Hindu religious text, Kumbh Mela came to be from the Samudra manthan that took place due to the war between the dev lok and asuras. The Churn of the ocean brought forth a pot of Nectar that gave immortality and both the Gods and asuras wanted it. The pot was taken by Lord Vishnu’s trusted aide, Garuda ,but four drops of nectar fell on earth. The Kumbh Mela is conducted at the four sites where the drops of nectar had fallen. The bathing in the rivers at the side of Kumbh Mela is done to bid one of their sins and stop the endless cycle of birth and death. 

Millions of devotees, from across the globe gather at the Kumbh Mela. Many incidents are reported every year on the separation of many men and women. The 2021 Maha Kumbh Mela began from 14 January is being held in Haridwar. This year instead of the usual 12 years cycle , the Kumbh Mela is being organized after 11 years because of specific auspicious dates. This is the first time in the past 80 years that such a phenomenon has happened. In recent times, digital lost and found centres help to trace out and reunite the large amount of lost devotees. Even in 2019 Kumbh Mela, fifty thousands people got separated from their families but all of them have been reunited with their families, as per the report says. The lost people have been constantly provided with food and blankets. Technology plays an important role in reuniting the lost people with their family members. Many hi-tech lost and found centres operated by tech-savvy and expert volunteers worked hard to unite lost pilgrims. Unlike the past, most of the people who get estranged from their family are now get united with the help of many organisations available at Kumbh Mela. There is an incident of a little girl who was reunited with her family after one year. A two year old boy who was reunited with his family on the same day. There is also an incident of a woman who got reunited with her family after thirty five years. Kumbh Mela is regarded as a place for reuniting lost people, not necessarily all of them disappeared at the Mela. Many people arrive at the Kumbh Mela with a hope to see a glance of their near and dear ones who may be lost from their house or any other places.

Kumbh Mela is not only a religious gathering, the emotions of the people are related with it. The Kumbh Mela is inscribed in the list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO in 2017. Even today the mentioning of Kumbh Mela remains incomplete without  mentioning a joke about getting lost at the fair. Whether it may be the story of a young widow of a man estranged from his family as portrayed in Kati Patang (1970 ) or the lost son of Thakur Maharaj Singh in Ravi Chopra’s film Zameer (1975 ), the ‘lost and found’ theme at Kumbh Mela remained one of the most popular motif for film makers for almost three decades  starting from the1980s. Bollywood’s famous phrase ‘Kumbh ke Mele mein bichhde huye bhai’ is actually a bitter truth as thousands of children really get separated from their parents, though the number of lost cases reduced day by day. 

About The Author:

Priyanka Basu is a student of B.ED in the Institute of Education (P.G) for Women, Chandannagar. She has completed her masters in English Literature and Culture Studies from Burdwan University. She has published many articles at Weaver Magazine by Monomousumi Services.She has published a short story in the anthology “I Accept Your Offer” by Zorba Books publications. She has published paper on Indian folk culture in postScriptum: An Interdisciplinary journal of literary Studies. Her area of interest is post colonial study of English literature.

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