Mehmood is an electrician whose business of setting up lights for festivals spans from Janmasthami celebrations in Muzaffarnagar to the famous Nauchandi Mela in Meerut
Prayagraj, Jan 14, 2019: In a sea of saffron, he stands out with his skull cap and gray beard. To the first time visitor, a board reading ‘Mullah Ji Light waale’ (Mullah Ji, the lighting man) at the Kumbh Mela may be an odd sight but to the Sadhus who have gathered at the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna, Mohammed Mehmood aka Mullah Ji is a permanent feature of every Kumbh. To some, he is even a friend.
Mehmood is a 76-year-old businessman from Muzaffarnagar in Western UP. In 1986, he acquainted himself with the Sadhus of the Juna Akhara – the largest and one of the fiercest Akharas of the Naga Sadhus; an ancient order of warrior monks. They hired him to set up the lights around their tents. Today, every six years, he travels over 800 km to Allahabad, now named Prayagraj, and camps out at the Kumbh Mela.
Sandwiched between the tents of the Juna Akhara, he talks of his journey to Kumbh. “I am an electrician. When you come here at night, you will see that the entire area where Sadhus have pitched their tents is dazzling with bright lights of all colours. That is my doing,” he says proudly. Mehmood’s business of setting up lights for festivals spans from Janmasthami celebrations in Muzaffarnagar to the famous Nauchandi Mela in Meerut. ‘Mullah Ji’ had started his business from scratch.
“The first Kumbh I ever attended was the 1986 Kumbh in Haridwar. Apart from the mela that happens in Nashik, I have attended every one. I haven’t kept count of how many Kumbh Melas I have attended, maybe you can do the maths,” he jokes, sipping a cup of tea at his 11th mela.
Naga Baba Sangam Giri, a warrior monk from the Juna Akhara, is Mehmood’s neighbor on the sands in Kumbh. “I have seen him at nearly every Kumbh Mela I’ve been to. I never even bothered to ask him, his real name. For us he is, and will always be, simply ‘Mullah Ji’ – our friend,” he says, adding, “For Hindus, we are gurus. For Muslims, we are Pirs. They (Muslims) worship niraakar (a formless God) and we worship aakar (idol worship). There may be different routes, but we are all going to the same place. There are 25 different ways to get to Allahabad. Everyone takes a different route to the railway station. But eventually, everyone ends up at the railway station.”
Mehmood says he is treated with respect among the Sadhus. The day that stops, he says, that will be his last Kumbh. “The Babas make me feel at home. Sometimes they ask me to sit on their gaddi (padded mattress), but I respect them too much to do that. I read my namaz five times a day in the presence of these Sadhus and they always give me space,” he said.
If the Sadhus hadn’t treated Mehmood differently, he probably would not have come to Kumbh, he recalls in nostalgia.
Over the last three decades, Kumbh has become an integral part of his life. Will Mullah Ji come back for his 12th Kumbh? “Inshallah! If Allah commands me to, I will come back,” he says.
The story first appeared at News 18.com