Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela

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The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus, some of whom live in caves after taking a vow of celibacy and renouncing worldly possessions. (Reuters)
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The devotees' charge down to the waters to bathe at the opening of the Kumbh, many armed with tridents and swords, is one of the highlights of the festival. (Reuters)
Updated 17 January 2019

Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela

  • Organizers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers
  • The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons

PRAYAGRAJ, India: Ash-smeared and dreadlocked Naga sadhus or Hindu ascetics, naked except for rosary beads and garlands and smoking wooden pipes, are a huge draw at the world’s largest religious festival that began this week in India.
At the Kumbh Mela, or “festival of the pot,” held this year in Prayagraj in north India, organizers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus, some of whom live in caves after taking a vow of celibacy and renouncing worldly possessions.
Their charge down to the waters to bathe at the opening of the Kumbh, many armed with tridents and swords, is one of the highlights of the festival.
“It is a confluence of all Naga sadhus at the meeting point of these holy rivers,” said Anandnad Saraswati, a Naga sadhu from Mathura, a holy city in north India.
“They meet each other, they interact with each other and they meditate and pray here at the holy confluence. They give their message to the people and they transform people.”
Most of the Nagas enter the orders in their early teens, leaving their friends and families to immerse themselves in meditation, yoga and religious rituals. It can take years to be conferred with the title of a Naga, they say.
“One has to live a life of celibacy for six years. After that the person is given the title of a great man and 12 years after that he is made a Naga,” said Digambar Kedar Giri, a Naga sadhu from Jaipur.
During the eight-week Kumbh, generally held every three years in one of four cities in India, the Nagas live in makeshift monasteries called Akhara erected on the eastern banks of the Ganges.
They spend their days meditating and receiving a stream of visitors who come to pay their respects.
“It feels surreal: all this time you have read about them. They are almost like fictional characters and then you meet them,” said a woman who gave her name as Pallavi, on a visit to the Akharas.
The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons. In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, who share the Kumbhs as a result.


Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

Updated 22 August 2019

Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

  • The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday
  • Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month

DOHA: The US and the Taliban met in Doha on Thursday, an American source close to the talks said, for potentially decisive dialogue to allow Washington to drawdown militarily in Afghanistan.
The source said the talks started around 1300 GMT — the ninth time the two foes have met face-to-face.
The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday, blasts rocked Jalalabad Monday, and the death toll from a weekend wedding bombing reached 80.
Washington’s top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller was at the talks venue, according to an AFP correspondent.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.
Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls due in 2020.
Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai told AFP Thursday that overall talks had been “going well.”
The talks are expected to focus on establishing a timeline for the US withdrawal of its more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been there for 18 years, it’s ridiculous,” US President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday.
“We are negotiating with the government and we are negotiating with the Taliban,” he said.
“We have good talks going and we will see what happens.”
But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Afghanistan’s incumbent administration remain unresolved.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad sought to bolster optimism for a peace agreement last week when he said in a tweet that he hoped this is the final year that the country is at war.