Losing a loved one in the Kumbh Mela has become an unfortunate reality and such incidents are reported every six to twelve years, when millions of devotees gather to attend the religious festival at Prayagraj, Allahabad.
Many of such lost souls reunite after years of struggle and it wouldn’t have been possible if this 18-year-old, Raja Ram Tiwari, an Allahabad-based farmer had not started this trend by helping an old woman, who was looking for her family in the overwhelming crowd of the 1946 Kumbh Mela.
Raja accompanied the woman to her home and in return, she touched Raja’s feet to thank him for taking such great care of her, when she was lost and trapped among the unknowns. This gesture touched Raja’s heart so much that he decided to continue helping people in the Kumbh Mela for the rest of his life.
With an aim to help more victims, Raja started to volunteer at every Kumbh Mela after that. He used to have a loudspeaker in his hands for announcing the names of the lost and due to his severe dedication, more than 800 people were reunited by him single-handedly in the following year. His gratitude also earned him a nickname of Bhule Bhatke Tiwari.
As time passed by, he encouraged more members of the family along with him to do the same and together they have successfully reunited more than 22,000 children and 12,50,000 people in the last 73 years.
But now this responsibility has been passed on to his youngest son, Umesh Tiwari who is looking forward to keeping the legacy going.
Growing up in a family which is much loved by the devotees, Umesh told
“My father was a very benevolent person and being his son is a privilege. But, while starting something is important, continuing it is even more crucial, and this is why he got the rest of the family involved in this work as well. I began working with him from the age of 20, in 1995, but beyond following my father’s footsteps, what drove me was a sense of satisfaction. Every time, someone is reunited with their loved one, the smiles and the blessings fill my heart. It is this that continues to drive me, and will drive generations of our family.”
After his father passed away in 2016, he took the lead in managing the camp of Kumbh Mela 2019 along with his 18-year-old son Ashutosh and 150 members from all across India, who came forward to volunteer for God’s work.
On average, the camp reunites 250 people every day and the quantity even reaches up to 1700 during the time of Purnima (full moon). People from all across India donate for the cause to make it easier for Umesh, who then even book their tickets to back home for free. The government also plays its role in providing basic facilities like electricity and water to every camp.
“People, who come to our door, are either our friends or family, or ‘bhule bhatke’ (lost), and we welcome them with love, free meals, blankets and a promise that they will reunite with their family. In many cases, we have even booked tickets for the lost pilgrims to return to their homes safely,” he said in a proud voice.
Most of the shivirs come from rural areas who get rescued with a traditional method. They are identified with huge yellow balloons that have ‘Bhoole Bhatke Shivir’ written on them to make it easier for pilgrims. On the other hand, people come to the camps with chits having the names of the ones who get lost and volunteers then announce their names on the microphones till the time they don’t reunite them.
Despite doing so much for humanity, Umesh still prefers to stay humble. He believes that helping another human in distress is like a job that earns you satisfaction and love of people. He hopes for more support from the benefactors so more people could be rescued at every Kumbh Mela without any trouble.