When will worshippers open their eyes? Deaths at Kumbh Mela raise questions

Published: February 19, 2013

GURPREET SINGH
RADIO INDIA

Kumbh Mela

Relatives of people who died in a stampede while returning home from the Kumbh Mela festival sit among the corpses of their relatives at the train station in Allahabad, India on Feb. 10, 2013. Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

If the deaths of over 30 pilgrims returning from the so-called “holy dip’’ in India have failed to shake the blind faith of worshippers, perhaps it might take many more deaths and centuries to end this madness.

Kumbh Mela, a festival of ascetics near Allahabad, India, has remained popular among orthodox Hindus for many years and has continued to attract crowds from different parts of the world. Even those blinded by spirituality in the western world make it a point to attend.

This year’s Kumbh Mela witnessed more than 30 pilgrims dying in a stampede at Allahabad railway station and many of tents burnt because of fires in separate incidents. While the authorities have rightly ordered a probe into the circumstances that led to the tragedy, those indulging in blind faith over supremacy of god should also look hard at themselves.

If participating in Kumbh Mela is a divine duty how come the god, who is supposedly the most powerful and kind being, could not prevent an accident that claimed the lives of pilgrims who took a “holy dip’’ to either please him or to wash away their sins? It is often said that even a leaf does not move without god’s will, then why we should not put the blame where it belongs? Instead of questioning this blind faith and the existence of god, some would rather argue that the victims were fortunate to die while returning from a holy act. What a hypocritical way of protecting someone unseen?

That this madness will still continue even in the face of this tragedy is not surprising as this was not the first time that pilgrims have died while performing a holy act. Stampede is the most common cause of death for devotees who gather in the thousands during pilgrimages. The madness and rush to be the first one to offer reverence further contributes to stampede. People have also died in road mishaps and fires either during their pilgrimages or while heading to or retuning from them. Even the followers of the most modern religions, like Sikhism, are not free from this weakness. People outside India might assume that it has to do with collective religious attitudes of the Indian society, but they should need to know that atheism and free thought have also prevailed during the ancient Indian civilization.

Each incident demands some fair questions: whether god exists for example, or whether god is a sadist for taking the lives of his own followers? It’s a shame Indian society continues to enjoy the benefits of science and technology, yet it has not grown enough to break itself free from the shackles of religious beliefs.

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