Friday, February 19, 2010

Haridwar Sadhu Posters

The Kumbha Mela is really a sadhu convention. And that means lots of advertising. Haridwar is cluttered with hundreds of billboards advertising the coming of various sadhus and sannyasis, whose large pandal tents are dotting the tent city that is the Kumbha Mela. I started to photograph as many of the signs as I could, much in the way that a 10-year-old collects bubble gum cards, trying to get a full set. Unfortunately my battery died and I had no recharger with me.

Here are some of the highlights.

(1) This is a poster for Sri Panchadasa Nam Juna Akhara. Haridwar has a number of Akharas, which are maths or ashrams, or central seats for different sampradayas of sannyasis. I am not quite sure of the relationship of these lineages to the Shankara dasanamis. I talked briefly to one sadhu in the tent city and he explained that this specific line was descended from Dattatreya, the avadhut mentioned in the 11th canto of the Bhagavatam.

The akharas award the title of Mahamandaleshwar, as can be seen on this poster. The Juna Akhara sannyasis all seem to have the Giri title, as with Devananda Giri on the right here.

(2) This poster was in the tent city in the Juna Akhara section, but he does not state that affiliation. Mahamandaleshwar Swami Viyogananda Saraswati of Ishavasyam Ashram at Gangotri, which has a branch at Haridwar.

(3) This is the ubiquitous Pilot Baba. He has literally hundreds of posters. His pandal is up and he is one of the first to really make his presence felt at the Kumbha Mela. I did not go to see him, but I hear that his claim to fame is that he gets buried alive for days at a time. He has a Japanese woman disciple who has learned how to do that as well. A giant billboard was standing at the entrance to his camp. He is also apparently a part of the Juna Akhara.

(4) This poster shows the iconography of the Shanti Kunja or Gayatri Family (Parivar). These people are extremely visible and active. They have a huge property on the Rishikesh-Haridwar Road that extends all the way to the Ganges in the Saptarishi Ashram area. This property has a large number of multi-storey apartment buildings as well as a fairly modern university.

The goddess on the billboard is Gayatri and the Gayatri mantra is around her. They post little stick-its with rather anodyne slogans on them in all the buses and trains. Like the one here, "Man is not a slave of his circumstances, but their controller and master." One fruit juice vendor in town had one of these slogans pasted to his cart. It said something like, "Never forget that you are the most important person in the world." I kidded him about it, but he was pretty juiced up about it. The founder is the rather uncharismatic looking Sri Ram Sharma, who has written numerous books that I have not read.

(5) This nicely touched up photo of Avadheshananda Giri is one of the more common around town. He is a Mahamandaleshwara, but does not advertise his affiliation to an akhara. Avadheshananda has written numerous popular books that are sold at almost every popular outlet for religious books. He appears to be a popular kathaka.

(6) Probably the second most numerous in terms of billboards is the following one of Ramananda sampradaya acharya Swami Narendracharyaji Maharaj. His signs all say "The Hindi Religion is in Danger." All the signs give a different reason for this danger. I am sorry that I only have this one, as it would have been good to catalog all the reasons given. This one says, "Our Hindu brothers do not get religious instruction in childhood." This is followed by the rousing, "Rise up! Step forward! Protect Dharma!"

(7) Ravi Shankar of "Art of Living" fame is one of the top gurus in India. He is from Bangalore I believe. He is here advertising "Maha Rudra Puja" which is shown in the picture.

(8) Hands down winner in the billboard competition is Soham Baba. This poster is in Hindi ("Stop Global Warming"), but he was the only advertiser who was more frequently spreading his message in English. He really touched all bases and seems to really be out to save the world. We got a good laugh out of one poster showing him giving sandesh from a typical Indian sweet box to a docile line of African villagers dressed in their tribal costumes. Another notable billboard shows him walking in Holland past a windmill being followed by a small crowd of Europeans. Yet another shows him in the middle of a crowd being flanked by two very sinister looking white bodyguards. This man is pushing for the top... He has a mission! He is also Juna Akhara.

There are plenty more and maybe I will go back and collect some more.. We still have a couple more months of Mela.

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