NORWALK, Calif. — Unseasonably warm weather did not prevent Indian Americans from celebrating “Kumbh Mela USA 2015” at the grounds of Excelsior High School here Oct. 24. Ritualistic prayers and chants for peace opened one of Hinduism’s most heralded of traditions amidst 90-degree heat and high humidity.
About three dozen temples from the United States and Canada were tapped to participate in the Kumbh Mela, which is Hinduism’s mass pilgrimage. A daylong schedule included several re-enacted elements of the Hindu pilgrimage, appearances by an activist and an author, and a rain dance.
Shri Nithya Mukthananda traveled to Norwalk from Seattle, Wash., and coordinates the North American operations of the Nithyananda Hindu Temple. He explained the Kumbh Mela as a journey of spirituality.
“Kumbh Mela is one of the most unique festivals in Hinduism, and it’s one of the most ancient festivals of Hinduism. It’s the largest gathering of humanity in the world. It is a celebration of the highest possibility of humanity. Enlightenment is one of the highest possibilities,” Mukthananda told India-West. “In the process, it is people who are spiritually inclined from all walks of life to come together to celebrate life.”
Attendees celebrated life from the very beginning of the event.
The Kumbh Mela began with a fire ritual, which lasted about 30 minutes. The fire ritual was followed by chants for world peace, the rain dance and procession, and then a Grand Holy Bath with consecrated water.
A rain dance performed by Danza Azteca Xochipilli brought unique energy to the Kumbh Mela and galvanized the participating temples who followed the dancers on a quarter-mile circle around the Excelsior High School grounds as part of the opening procession.
Chapters of the Nithyanandeshwara Hindu Temple from Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, San Jose, Toronto, St. Louis, Oklahoma and Ohio participated in the procession.
A dance troupe representing Mexican and Aztec culture donned colorful headdresses, costumes and footwear as they danced their way around the school grounds asking Mother Nature’s blessings for rain.
A handful of booths were erected in one corner of the school grounds, where Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant prepared food for visitors. The event was also highlighted by an aarti, bhajans and appearances by authors Rajiv Malhotra and Stephen Knapp. Guests were provided with free food.
Akhik Bharatiya Akhada Parishad recently organized the Kumbh Mela in India. The Kumbh Mela, Hinduism’s largest pilgrimage and festival in India, is held every three years and attracts millions of devotees to take a dip in one of several holy rivers, including the Ganga, Godavari, and Yamuna.
Organizers of the local event hope the Kumbh Mela could become as significant in Southern California as the pilgrimage is in India. Mukthananda said he hopes to have temples from all around the country participate in the Kumbh Mela festivities in Southern California.
“One of the key things of Kumbh Mela is people showing, exhibiting the abilities they have gained through meditation. It’s a celebration like no other. We really wanted to preserve and spread this tradition all over the world,” Mukthananda told India-West. “The best way [to preserve and spread the tradition] is to bring it where people haven’t seen it before. Southern California has such a rich Indian American community.”
Participating in Kumbh Mela is already symbolic for Mukthananda, as the festival and pilgrimage represents the relationship he had with his guru and spiritual health.
“Hinduism is a celebration of life,” Mukthananda said.