Tirth Purohit and Prayagwal, Part Two
BY: SUN STAFF
Ardh and Kumbh Mela Pandas (here and below)
Oct 29, 2013 CANADA (SUN) An exploration of the Kumbha and Ardh Melas.
Mr. Skinner, an English traveler, has written this about the Prayagwal and the mela in 1826 A.D.: "This was a religious fair that congregated at the confluence of two rivers. I did not find anything being sold there. Only bathing, prayers and meditation were the main activities there.
Several rectangular wooden planks, about 8-9 feet in size and standing on tall pillars, were kept on the river bank. There were large umbrellas on them and people rested under them. The purohits and pandas appeared to be typical and exclusive teachers of the pilgrims and had their seats in the middle. They did not budge from their places and with beads in their hands, they prayed for the fulfillment of the celestial desires of the pilgrims. It was a very interesting sight."
Mr. Neville has written in Ex darshan in India 1833 that, "The pilgrims coming to the Magh mela are given shelter and space by the Prayagwals and they fulfill their religious duties also. There is detailed description of this in the Matsya Puran and Prayag Mahatmya."
The master plan of the mutiny that took place in Prayag in 1857 was prepared in the midst of Prayagwals. The Rani of Jhansi had come to Prayag and had stayed with the Tirth Purohit of Prayag. The Prayagwals had collaborated with the Faqir Maualvi Liaquat Ali of Mahagaon to rebel against the British. The huge 2-maund brass bell at the church near Kotwali was broken down by some Prayagwal of Kydganj, and he was hanged for this. The houses of Prayagwals of Daraganj and Kydganj were ransacked and they were punished also.
There is a specific Tirth Purohit of all pilgrims to Prayag. The relationship of a pilgrim with a Tirth Purohit is that of a teacher and disciple. These Tirth Purohits are the religious teachers of the pilgrims and have the exclusive right to accept donations at the Triveni area.
Mr. Neville writes in the District gazetteer:
"All religious rites of pilgrims coming to Prayag are conducted by the Prayagwals. First there is obeisance at Beni madhav, followed by the sankalp, the shaving of the hair, a holy dip, pind daan, shaiya daan, godan, bhumi dan and thus in the end, the Prayagwal gives his blessings to the pilgrims."
All the daan and up-daan are conducted by the Prayagwals. The descriptions and family history of the pilgrims are in the scrolls carried by the tirth purohit. The accommodation and shelter for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and kalpawasis coming to Prayag are arranged by the Prayagwals. The Prayagwal gets the land on lease from the administration, arranges for a hut or tent on this land, puts up the pilgrims in them and accepts whatever is given as donation, and manages his livelihood with that only.
The pilgrims are dedicated to the Prayagwals on the basis of region and the rituals. The Prayagwals also preserve the descriptions of their pilgrims. The pilgrims derive immense pleasure upon seeing the signatures of their ancestors in those thick, ancient scrolls preserved by the Prayagwals, who immediately search out the family tree and family history as soon as the pilgrims approach them.
There are two kinds of Prayagwals: Pidhiya or permanent who are original residents of Prayag, and Pardeshi, who are descendants of relatives who came to Prayaag and settled there. The Prayagwals are given land on a token lease for sheltering the pilgrims, and they are given land for putting out the planks and cots for conducting the religious rites near the Sangam, Ganga patti and Yamuna patti. The allotment of this land is done at the behest of Prayagwal Sabha and the members decide the order and the area of place to be allotted. There have been no complaints regarding the Prayagwals roaming around to conduct the rites at any place except the designated one. Some of these Prayagwals also have the license to conduct the Benidaan.
These Pandas of Prayag take you back in time. They claim that online archives and digital records cannot match their thick books. Pilgrims flock to their tents to review the ancestral records of our forefathers. Each Prayagwal tent is marked by a fluttering flag, symbolising the territory of which they have records. These tents interspersed between the various tents and billowing facades of the asrams and tirthas make the mela ground a festival of color.
All the pilgrim has to do is recognise the panda of their clan, with the help of specific colourful flags, tell them where they come from, and the pandas will show them their family's chronology.
"We ask for the name of the district, village and one's caste. We are then able to tell him of the panda that he might belong to. Many youngsters these days don't know even the names of their grandfathers. They come here to look up in the book and we help them trace their ancestors," said Kedar Nath panda.
"They are registered as a recognised body -- Prayagwal Mahasabha -- with the administration. At present, our number is 1884... We will remain in business as long as devouts throng the melas,'' he added.
Adapted from material provided by the Government of Uttar Pradesh
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