10,000 people, including engineers, board toppers becoming Naga sadhus
Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, regarded as one of the biggest gatherings of the world, also witnesses the conversion of many young adults into Naga sadhus, to achieve spirituality.
The supreme body of the Naga sect, Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (ABAP), has estimated that over 10,000 men and women are taking deeksha (initiation) and becoming Naga sadhus this Kumbh.
Here's more on it.
More than 10,000 people to turn Naga sadhus
Mass initiation ceremony held at Kumbh last week
Last week, a night-long mass initiation ceremony at Kumbh was held, where over 10,000 people chopped off their hair, leaving behind only a tuft or shikha at the back of the head and performed their after-death ritual or pind-daan in the sacred fire ceremony.
Marine engineering graduate chooses to renounce the world
Among the participants was 27-year-old Rajat Kumar Rai from Kutch who has a diploma in marine engineering.
Instead of traveling overseas in his high-paying job, Rai chose to renounce the world.
Rai, now called Nityanand Giri, told media, "I had a dream many years back in which I saw myself dead and meeting God. It was then when I decided to become a Naga."
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Class XII board topper decides to join the Naga sect
Similarly, Ujjain-native Ghanshyam Giri, 18, decided to join the world of Naga sadhus, despite being a Class-XII board topper.
"After I had cleared my boards, I realized what my life's aim was. I was 16 when I moved into the ashram, Mahant Jairam Giri, in Ujjain. By his grace, I received initiation as a Naga just after two years, during this Kumbh," he said.
Participants to take holy dip today on 'Mauni Amavasya'
The participants are now waiting to take the holy dip on Mauni Amavasya, one of the most auspicious dates in the Kumbh calendar, today.
The Naga sect, founded by Shankaracharya, is popular for its seers performing aesthetic rituals and extreme penances by pushing their bodies to the limit and keeping themselves naked as a part of their practice to achieve spiritual growth.
Anyone, irrespective of caste, creed, color, religion can become sadhu
According to the Chief Convener of Juna Akhara and General Secretary of ABAP, Mahant Hari Giri, the initiation ceremonies are held only during the Kumbh.
"Any person who has a strong desire for vairagya (detachment) irrespective of caste, color or religion is eligible to become a Naga," he said, adding that many Muslims, Christians, and people from other religions have been accepted.
Path to initiation requires passing difficult-tests, aspirants monitored for years
Once accepted by the akhara, the path to becoming initiated is quite difficult.
"We test aspirants for years to see whether they are here to stay or have just decided to become a sadhu either due to a whim or after a crisis. Only when they prove themselves after being tested, and we are satisfied, are they ordained as a Naga," says Giri.
Toughest part of regimen is eradicating sexual desires, says Ghanshyam
It can take years or even decades to finally being ordained as a Naga after being accepted by the akhara.
When the participants were asked about the toughest part of their regimen, Ghanshyam mentioned the practices to "eradicate sexual desires and kill the ego".
Also, depending on their guru's instructions, the newly-inducted Nagas either spend time meditating in the Himalayas or perform social work.