The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sects in Kumbh contest

Nashik, Aug. 28: For the various sects of sadhus, the Kumbh is the beauty pageant where they can strut their stuff every three years.

It’s attended by the intense rivalry, the same kind that accompanies the pageant. There is a lot of bad blood between the four main sects — the Digamvars, the Nirmohis, the Nirvanis and the Chatur Sampradaya. The late entry of the Chatur (or Chaar) Sampradaya, after the official time allotted to them at the shahi snan yesterday, reportedly started the stampede.

But for the heads of the sect, presiding at the akhadas at the Tapovan, the area where the sadhus have pitched their tents about 2 km from the Ram Kund, there are more important things.

Srimant Phulodole Biharidas, one of the four mahants of the sampradaya, denies that any member of the sect had put in an appearance.

“We did not go for the bath,” he says. “Because the government did not allot us time.”

The administration reportedly gave them a time slot, but the sect was said to be unhappy because the other sects got precedence. It decided to boycott the holy bath, but at the last moment some of the sadhus felt that the opportunity to make a spectacular appearance at the Kumbh shouldn’t be thrown away.

Residents claim that all the sects try to make an appearance before the others, as that is a show of power. “They also try to bring in with them as many followers as possible, as that adds to the show,” says Yogesh Vispute, who owns a jewellery shop in Shahi Marg, where the disaster took place yesterday. Many people from outside the city who come to visit the Kumbh are given shelter at the sadhusakhadas to add to the number, he and his neighbours said.

The residents said that the sadhus left in cars after the bath through the right lane — they were allowed to come in vehicles before the venue was opened to the general public — but their followers were left behind. It was some of these men and women who tried to push themselves back into the one-way lane that had taken them to Ram Kund.

But Srimant Biharidas says the real issue is the “supremacy” of his sect over others. He claims that his sect is the “Supreme Court”, while the three others are its “generals”, and the Naga Sanyasis their soldiers. He pulls out a bunch of typed sheets and shows them up as evidence. “Things have come to such a pass because the sena has betrayed us,” he says, pointing at a piece of paper where the heads of the three other sects have “apologised” to the Chatur Sampradaya for the bad behaviour of Nagas at a previous Kumbh.

“I told the administration that such a disaster would happen after taking the bath on August 17,” he adds. August 17 was the occasion of the other shahi snan.

“You must sit down on the mattress, there, before you talk to me,” says Rashbehari Das, another mahant of the sampradaya. Staying with him are about 300-400 Bengali followers, who all escaped unscathed yesterday. “We took the bath very early in the morning, at 7.30 am,” he says. He denies that anyone from the community took the bath later in the day. “There was some internal problem in the organisation that may have led to the confusion,” he concedes, but says that he has nothing more to add, even as disciples queue up for his darshan.

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