During August and September the Just One Hunger Initiative had the opportunity to offer food to spiritual seekers at the 2015 Kumbh Mela, one of the biggest spiritual gatherings on the planet. This year’s Kumbh Mela was at Nasik, near Mumbai, and each day hundreds of thousands of people took part in this special occasion. The common focus for those attending was their spiritual practice and immersion in God. Just One was honored to provide nourishment for their bodies during their spiritual journey.
Each morning Just One donations sponsored hot chai and a simple snack for the men, women and children beginning their day near the Sai Maa Camp. The snacks changed on a rotating menu, and included roasted chickpeas, kitcheri (rice and lentils), simple rice mixes and some sweet snacks. The sweets are a very popular breakfast in India and always had many takers, but the chai was definitely the favourite. Chai is enthusiastically drunk from a very young age by all Indians, and here at the Kumbh Mela it was no exception. Children as young as 2 or 3 years of age would be offered the sweet milk chai by their mothers or by their older siblings, and would enjoy the warmth and sweetness.
The Just One midday and evening meals were both traditional Indian meals of lentils, vegetables, rice and roti (Indian bread). We served every person who entered our camp until their hunger was satisfied. The only restriction was that all food must be eaten before leaving the serving area. It could not be taken back to others in their camps or kept for later. With this understanding holy men, family groups and pilgrims of all castes, joined together in the Sai Maa camp to share the Kumbh Mela tradition of free meals for spiritual seekers.
Every day was different, but there were always excited children rushing to enter when their rotation was called. Mostly these children were from large families who had little, and there were often many young children close in age coming together. These children seemed to look after each other, with the older ones attending to the welfare of their younger siblings while the parents ate separately. The children chattered noisily and sat together in close-knit groups. Often the poverty was clearly evident. Their clothes were dirty, and there were holes and ripped seams on their shirts and skirts. The younger ones often wore only oversized underwear as outerwear, while the youngest wore only dirty shirts to cover their distended bellies. But even though their external circumstances may have seemed lacking, their excitement about the Kumbh Mela was contagious and their eyes were as alive as their smiles.
The focus of a Kumbh Mela is on spiritual enlightenment and one important tool for this is service to humanity. Through the generosity of the global Sai Maa community, Sai Maa’s camp at Nasik 2015 has served nourishing food to tens of thousands of people, helping to nourish the physical body of those who participated in this grand vortex of spiritual energy called the Kumbh Mela.