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Seers blend spirituality with social cause at Maha Kumbh

Times of India – 19th February, 2013

LUCKNOW: They are the keepers of Hindu faith who draw millions to the Kumbh Mela. They preach spiritualism and indulge in religious propaganda; but they have also taken up social causes. From spreading awareness against female foeticide, saving river Ganga, mediating in conflict-ridden areas and advocating world peace, the seers at Maha Kumbh are also encouraging people to switch to vegetarianism and shun alcohol.

Swami Adokshajanand of Puri, for instance, has been doing his bit to settle conflicts in the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir. Hosting the warring groups at his ashram in Sangam this year, Adokshajanand, said: “There are many regions in this country that are still in a state of civil war. As a result, development of these areas is directly affected. It is exactly what the neighbouring countries want, but for us, internally, the need for peace is immense. In Assam, where the ULFA was in conflict with the state government, mediation would be good for everyone involved, the government as well as the local people.”

Following in the footsteps of his guru, Shankaracharya of Jagannath Puri, Swami Niranjan Dev Tirth, Adokshajanand decided that though the governments had to be respected, they could not be depended upon to do everything. “As citizens, we have our own responsibilities to the state. As a non-partisan preacher, I gained nothing through the mediation. Once it started, it was well accepted, both by the government as the well as the warring groups,” he added.

Adokshajanand is also planning an inclusive move to bring the Naxalites under his wing. “I am encouraged by the response in Jammu & Kashmir and Assam. In the end, everyone wants development. If there is peace, development activities will automatically start,” Adokshajanand said.

There are others who have taken up for bigger causes. Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, for instance, campaigns most vocally for saving the Ganga. In addition, his posters, campaigning to ban cow slaughter, alcoholism and corruption also dot the Kumbh Mela area. The 80-year-old Jagadguru, as he is popularly called, has also been vocal in protesting the continuous constructions of dams along the Ganga, which have affected the flow of the river. Swaroopanand’s principal disciple, Swami Avimukteshwaranand, said, “Development must come with a vision. Even dams have certain longevity. The same dams that are believed to be means for electricity supply will be the cause of pitch darkness 15 years on, when they break down.”

Then there is Swami Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara. He says, “My mantra is for people to be natural. In this context, I preach the need for clean rivers and banning the use of chemical fertilisers. At the Prabhu Premi Sangh, we believe in Anna-food for all, Akshar-education for all and Aushadhi-medical facilities for all.” Avdheshanand has set up mobile dispensaries that offer free medical aid, and also provides free education for children.

There are others, like Swami Brahmswaroop Brahmchari, who is campaigning against female foeticide. Speaking to TOI, Brahmchari said, “My message is one of continuous flow of our culture. As a part of this, I am strongly opposed to cow slaughter and female foeticide. This is not just a religious fair. Kumbh is a place, where people converge to protect their culture. We, as protectors and keepers of this faith, are responsible for guiding these people.”

Ganga and conflict resolution are not the only issues being taken up at Kumbh this year. Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the founder of Ganga Action Parivar and President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh has been also been one of the most vocal when it comes to Saving the Ganga.

Chidanand, who has roped in several Bollywood biggies to garner support for his Save Ganga campaign–this year, Parmarth Ashram hosted Bollywood biggies Preity Zinta, Emraan Hashmi and Anil Kapoor’s wife, Sunita, among others — has also spoken of the benefits of vegetarianism. He said, “If we cannot give life, we also have no right to take life away. Our body is a divine temple and should be trated accordingly.” Chidanand have also urged everyone to take to vegetarianism.

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