Italian Spouses Thursday, Feb 8 2007 

It used to be that Italians did not look far from home when choosing a spouse. But new statistics show that they are increasingly marrying foreigners, with about one in 10 choosing a non-Italian spouse in what researchers call a “rapidly evolving phenomenon.” (Link)

This’s not news to us Indians, because the most famous “bahu” (daughter-in-law) in India is an Italian. She’s probably the most powerful individual in India and listed as one of the most powerful women in the world.

Everyone occupying public space, with the exception of those belonging to the right-wing RSS-BJP combine, is wary of the word “Italy” or “Italian” because a slip of the tongue may land them on the wrong side of political correctness. However, the right-wing politicians often kick up a storm of protest by interpolating those very words into whatever they say!

For the congress party it’s blasphemy.

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A Mega-fair: Kumbh Mela Monday, Feb 5 2007 

The ongoing Ardh Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag) in India is a one and a half month long (3 Jan – 16 Feb) bizarre show of piety and belief by ritual loving Hindus. It is expected to attract 70 million people for the ritual bath in the holy waters at the ‘Samgam’ (confluence of three sacred rivers).

For Hindus Allahabad is ‘Tirtha Raj’ (the king of Hindu pilgrimage centers). It’s believed that a bath in the holy waters here on auspicious days during Kumbh Mela can wash away all sins and lead one to release from ‘samsara’ (the cycle of birth and death). This release, this breaking away from the seemingly unending cycle of birth and death, is ‘parama purushartha’ (the highest goal, the ultimate fulfillment, of human life) for a believing Hindu. Hindus have invented numerous gods, devised complex rituals and worships and faithfully followed any number of practices for this purpose.

Hindu legends say that it was here at Prayag that ‘amruth’ (nectar/elixir) fell from the ‘kumbh’ (pitcher) that demons carried away by duping gods when it emerged as they together churned the mythical ‘Ksheerasagara’ (the ocean of milk). This mythical incident has made the place holiest of all holy pilgrimage centers of Hindus. Since then Hindus from all parts of India have been gathering at Prayag for a holy dip on auspicious days accurately fixed by expert Hindu astrologers by studying the precise movements and positions of heavenly bodies.

The point is: Kumbh Mela has its origin at a time in the mythical past; it is as old as Hindu myths!

(But a young Australian scholar has challenged this notion. She says that the first reference to Kumbh Mela is found in a government document in 1868. On the basis of her research she confirms that it’s only 150 years old! The weekly news magazine Outlook, dtd. January 29, 2007, had an article on this topic).

The bathing ritual itself must be really old. Its transformation into the staggering mega-fair that it is today

may not be so old. 

The Ardh Kumbh falls half way between two Maha Kumbh Melas. A Maha Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. The last Maha Kumbh at Allahabad was in January-February in 2001

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.” (Quoted in the Wikipedia article on Kumbh Mela).

Read another essay on the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001.

See pictures of Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2007:1) ABC News. 2) BBC News.