For nearly a month ending August 15, in the temple towns of Dumka and Deoghar in Jharkhand, one of India’s largest pilgrimages, the Shravani Mela, was underway.
Hindu mythology tells the story of the ocean being churned by the asura s and deva s, using the Mandara mountain range (in modern-day Cameroon), lassoed by the serpent king Vasuki. According to one version, the churning produced 14 different types of rubies, 13 of which were given to demons while one, Halahal, was given to Lord Shiva. Halahal was poisonous and turned Lord Shiva blue. The gods panicked and gave him water from the river Ganga to nullify the effects of the poison, and this worked, although he remained blue.
This legend meets another — Ravana prayed relentlessly to Shiva asking for his blessings, even resorting to decapitating his many heads. When Ravana was reduced to just one head, Shiva asked him what he wanted. Ravana asked for a shivling which he could take back to Lanka. The gods were angry at this proposal, asking Shiva not to grant that wish as it would empower Ravana. Shiva gave Ravana the shivling but added a caveat — the shivling must be carried all the way from Mount Kailash to Lanka without being set down, for if it were to be set down, it would never move. Cautioned by this, Ravana took the shivling but stopped at Deoghar. Here he was met by one of the gods in the guise of a shepherd, offering to hold the shivling. Ravana handed it over, only for the shepherd to set it down immediately.
The legends merge with Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman scooping up water from the Ganga at Sultanganj and walking to the shivling in Deoghar.
Pilgrims from as far away as Nepal and all corners of India now follow in these footsteps, picking up the water from Sultanganj and walking 108 kilometres barefoot all the way to Deoghar to pour the water on the shivling , chanting ‘Bol Bam’ all the way.
With ever-increasing numbers, 2018 having seen over 27 lakh pilgrims, 2019 was set to cross 30 lakh in 30 days. The logistics behind this event is astonishing. Nearly 5,000 police personnel were deployed over three shifts, backed by a National Disaster Relief Force team on standby, and the Indian Army ready to help. The police kept a close eye through 300 temporary CCTV cameras linked to three control rooms, with a fourth acting as headquarters. One-hundred-and-fifty volunteers served as guides, while 600 staff kept the routes and temples clean around the clock. The medical facilities included a 20-bed air-conditioned field hospital, five health camps, 11 sub-health camps, 10 standard ambulances and two motorcycle ambulances. In 2018, the healthcare infrastructure treated 1.5 lakh people.
Almost 80 kilometres of spiral lighting were set up on all roads leading to the temples. Three tent cities with a total of 1,600 beds and 500 lockers for storage, and 600 toilets, 15 water points and five lakh water pouches were made available.
Varun Ranjan, IAS, one of the officers leading the management of Shravani Mela, said, “This event is the single biggest revenue generator for Dumka and Deoghar, as well as being a sacred event in the Hindu calendar. Apart from these facilities, we also have an ice sculpture, selfie points, a 9ft-tall statue of Lord Shiva, a replica of the ice lingam in Amarnath and many other features for our visitors.”