21 June, 2021

The Sea And The Swamp

After the Kumbh, it’s the Ganga Sagar mela. But can the sea gods save Sagar Island itself?

Sandipan Chatterjee
The Sea And The Swamp

“God will never allow this island to go down under water,” thunders Sadhu Baba, standing waist-deep in water in his loincloth, body covered in ash, hands stretching up towards the sky. “The day that happens, the world will be destroyed,” he proclaims apocalyptically. If you are standing near him on Sagar Island, looking at the scene unfolding all around, you just might want to believe him. The Ganga Sagar Mela, the two-day religious fair which falls in mid-January on Makar Sankranti every year, attracts hundreds of thousands to this island in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. A vast beach stretching across the silver, sandy southeastern tip of the island is taken over by a sea of humanity—not just pilgrims and sadhus from across the country but also a jostling crowd of national and international tourists, journalists, photographers, police and politicians. As you watch this sea of bodies, it really is very difficult to imagine it becoming a part of the vast open sea stretching out beyond. And, like...

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