This event is marked by five Parva days for sacred bathing within the period of 30 days of this occasion. Yet the Naga Sanyasis (naked, ash smeared ascetics) celebrate Kumbh for a period of just 10 days and join only three of the Parva days of mass bathing in the holy river. The reason they shared for this was, Nagas maintain the tradition of Naga Monks who, during the period of King Harshawardhana of Kannauj, in 700 AD, received donation only upto 10 days within a period of 75 days of the Kumbh at Prayag.
The Shaivite Sadhus titled Naga, those who express their faith in Lord Shiva, are the most revered Sadhus and are major attraction of this event for their strange practices and martial power. Getting to see them and receive blessings from them is considered as one of the most holy achievement for a devotee attending Kumbh as they are the holiest holy men of the Hindus. In older days, women and girls weren’t allowed to see the Nagas, however with time, few women have had the opportunity to experience this face of religion as well. Most of the attention of the observers revolves around them in this event and so was mine.
Naga ascetics are recognised for their quick anger, aggressive militancy, and rigidity on certain issues. Luckily the Nagas I met were extremely humble and blessed me in their own unique ways.
No sooner does the Parva start, they march out to the main bathing point at the Ghat which is at that time strictly vacated by the Hindu householders until these holy men have completed their bath. Their royal procession to the ‘The Shahi Snan’ forms the main attraction at Kumbh where the naked ascetics move out of their Akharas.
As shared by a local, the tale of Shahi Snan dates back to the time when Akbar, one of the Mughal ruler had his abode on the banks of Sangam in Prayag. In those times, these river banks were occupied by the Nagas. At the time when Akbar was under attack and about to loose, he pleaded help from them and received it too. On winning over, Akbar, in respect to the Nagas arranged the Royal bath for them at Sangam and thus called the Shahi Snan.