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No sangam at Sangam, foreign devotees told to act, talk, eat like Indians

Author: Prashant Pandey
Publisher: The Indian Express
Date: February 2, 2013
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-sangam-at-sangam-foreign-devotees-told-to-act-talk-eat-like-indians/1068299/0

When at Kumbh, do as Indians do. This is the message to the foreign devotees coming to Kumbh-2013 from the gurus or the organisers of the camps, where they are present in large numbers. While in some cases, the list of dos and don'ts has been spelt out through letter or declaration forms, the issue is dealt with verbally in the other camps. The foreign devotees are not only told about what not to eat or drink, but also what and how to wear as a mark of respect to the Indian culture and customs.

As it is, meat, drugs and alcohol are a strict no in all the camps, in keeping with the spiritual nature of the mega-festival.

Sri Prem Baba, who is from Brazil, is among those to have written a letter to his devotees on clothing and behaviour. The letter, for instance, says that the women should wear Indian clothes, preferably saris, and shawls in the ashram. Men too have been advised to wear north Indian dresses. The women devotees have also been advised not to hug and kiss, which is a common way of greeting in their countries. It also reminds the devotees to take off their shoes at all sacred environments.

The letter, written in Portuguese, reminds the devotees not to forget that they were the guests and that their "role was to observe and not judge."

"The style of the West is very different from here. These guidelines are absolutely necessary. I am working towards bridging the gap between the two worlds. We have to tell our devotees how to respect the sacredness of the tradition here," said Prem Baba, when asked about the need for issuing guidelines.

At Parmarth Niketan's camp of Chidananand Saraswati, those arriving have to sign a list of dos and don'ts. "The form tells them that they are entering a sacred area and they give an undertaking that they will be refraining from certain things," said Director (Programme Implementation), Parmarth Niketan.

However, Mishra added that the undertaking was often reduced to mere formality. "Usually many of them have been associated with us for quite some time. They are already aware about our customs. The fact is that the respect for each other's culture is mutual," said Mishra.

Both Sri Prem Baba and Parmarth Niketan have a huge gathering of foreign devotees.

In Pilot Baba's Camp, Sector-9, where Russian devotees are in very large numbers, these things are monitored, although there are no written guidelines. "We keep a track of such things. Basically, the understanding here is that they have to keep themselves well covered," informed one of the organisers at the camp of Pilot Baba in Sector-9. "Take a look around. They are all Russians. But you would not find anybody wearing or doing anything that may offend the sensibilities here," she said, refusing to be identified.

At the Rainbow Love Camp, where travellers from countries like Argentina, Chile, Panama, the United States, Russia and even Japan, are gathering for Kumbh, the issue has already been settled in what they describe as "talking circles" (where they sit around and discuss their feelings and other issues, because there is no single chief in the camp). Chrystal, one of the Camp members, said: "Here, we take care to remain covered when we bathe or even when we move around in the camp. In fact, we are here to learn more about the local customs." Another fellow member, who identified himself as Jai from Iran, said: "Respect is what leads to knowing more about the other community."

KUMBH EFFECT? Man kills self

Kanpur: Out-of-work, a tannery worker allegedly committed suicide in Kanpur, police said on Friday.

Mukesh (23), a resident of the Chakeri area, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself at his home, police said. The deceased, police said, had been left without a source of income due to the ban on production at tanneries in view of the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, which might have pushed him to take the extreme step, they said.
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