Lost Among 150 Million Pilgrims In Kumbh Mela? This 70-Yr-Old Camp Will Save You

Image Credits: Bharat Sewa Dal

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‘Siblings separated in Kumbh Mela’ happen to be a colloquial catchphrase among Indians to express a strong bond of friendship. In reality, hardly any pilgrim at Kumbh Mela has to wait years to be reunited with his or her family, thanks to one foundation – Bhule Bhatke Shivir.

Started in 1946 by Raja Ram Tiwari, better recognised as ‘Bhule Bhatke Tiwari’, the camp is still reuniting devotees who get separated from their families at the overcrowded Mela grounds in Prayagraj Sangam. They hold a record of reuniting more than 12,50,000 people and 22,000 children in the past seven decades.

Four generations of a family doing this work

After Raja Ram Tiwari passed away in 2016, his son Umesh Tiwari took the onus of maintaining his father’s legacy and being a saviour to hundreds of lost souls in distress. This year as well, the Mela is abuzz with constant announcements of names in loudspeakers by Bhule Bhatke Shivir (also known as Khoya Paya Shivir).

Bhule Bhatke Shivir
Umesh Tiwari

At the camp premises, lost individuals are provided with blankets and meals for free until their families find them. “We try our best to serve them. This seva is everything for us,” remarks Umesh, expressing his devotion towards Ganga Maiya (Mother Ganges). They manage their funds mostly on their own, but occasional help keeps pouring in from well-wishers and Mela authorities. Umesh states that though they have never received any significant help from the Government, Bhule Bhatke Shivir has always managed well.

Umesh Tiwari is presently supported by a team of around 150 volunteers from different Indian states. “Four generations of our family are involved in this work. The volunteers who work with us now belong to the families who originally supported my father throughout his life,” Umesh informs Efforts For Good.

For the rest of the year, the Tiwaris are farmers by profession. But, on the days of the Mela every year, they turn saviours for many desperate souls. His son Ashutosh Tiwari has also joined the noble family tradition at the 2019 Kumbh Mela.

While Umesh Tiwari speaks to Efforts For Good, the clamour of endless mike announcements and enquiries can be heard in the background. Yet he speaks with utmost humility, which shows how seasoned he is to handle such a massive affair with a calm mind. “On normal days, we reunite around 200-250 people. On auspicious days like Purnima (full moon), the number can reach up to 1600 – 1700,” he reveals.

How ‘Bhule Bhatke’ Tiwari started

In 1946, Raja Ram Tiwari had attended the Magh Mela at Prayagraj for the first time, as a young adult of barely 18 years. On his way through the crowd, he spotted a helpless elderly woman crying in panic. It turned out that she could not find her way back to her makeshift tent, as it had no distinguishing mark among hundreds of similar shelters. Raja Ram helped her find her home.  Overwhelmed with gratitude, the woman had touched his feet then, which startled young Raja Ram. That’s when he decided that he would continue to pursue this work.

Bhule Bhatke Shivir
Raja Ram Tiwari, a.k.a Bhule Bhatke Baba

The next day, Raja Ram Tiwari fashioned a Bhopu (tin loudspeaker). He then scoured the Mela venue leading a team of lost people and declared their names tirelessly with his Bhopu. In the 1946 Magh Mela alone, he reunited around 800 people with their families, including little children.

Since then, Raja Ram Tiwari had been an integral part of every religious congregation happening at Prayagraj. Umesh Tiwari tallies the participation of his late father at 6 Ardh Kumbhs, 6 Kumbhs and more than 60 Magh Melas till his demise in 2016. The handmade loudspeakers were the only equipment used by Raja Ram Tiwari for many years till the advent of microphones.

They still work in the traditional way

Thanks to digital cameras, mobiles and internet now, finding a person’s family is a cakewalk. In fact, at the 2019 Kumbh Mela, around 15 digital lost-and-found centres have been set up. Yet, Bhule Bhatke Shivir chooses to stick to the traditional way of enlisting the names on paper, followed by announcements. And surprisingly, even in the digital age, panicked devotees forsake the digital centres and approach Bhule Bhatke Shivir for finding their families.

However, for non-Hindi speakers, the Shivir volunteers do take the help of Facebook and WhatsApp. By sharing their photographs, they find out the families in no time.

The Clean Ganga mission

Bharat Sewa Dal, Raja Ram Tiwari’s organisation which operates the Bhule Bhatke Shivir, has also started their Ganga cleaning mission a few years ago. “Throughout the year, we organise Ganga cleaning drives every Purnima (full moon days). My father’s last wish was to see a clean Ganga. So, he had initiated this mission before he left this world,” Umesh Tiwari shares emotionally.

Movie on ‘Bhule Bhatke’ Tiwari

‘Lost at Kumbh Mela, reunited decades later’ – this might have served as a plotline for many cult Bollywood movies. But, late Raja Ram Tiwari had brushed off the highly popular concept as fictitious. “There’s no such thing as lost forever. That’s only in films,” he had remarked in a 2013 interview with LA Times, adding that in reality, it takes hours, at most a few days, to reunite people.

Bollywood has long moved on from the cliched Kumbh Mela storylines and now the incredible story of Bhule Bhatke Tiwari himself is going to be adapted on screen soon. In November 2018, filmmaker Siddharth Roy Kapur revealed his plans for the same.

Also Read: 11,000+ Sanitary Workers, 1,00,000 Toilets & Use Of Technology To Ensure A ‘Swachh’ Kumbh 2019

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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

Image Credits: Bharat Sewa Dal

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns
2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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