Imagine a temporary city built in the middle of an expansive, dusty, empty lot in the outskirts of Delhi, India. There are thousands of large multi-colored tents built side by side, running as far as the eye can see. Millions of people from all over India walk the paths between the structures, each dressed in either the bright colors and shiny fabrics traditional to their home region or typical city street clothes of jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. A constant hum rises above the masses thick with the chatter of a multitude of dialects from every state in the country. People have gathered here from near and far to seek spiritual connection and healing with the blessing of Mataji, a beautiful graceful woman who sits quietly in a throne-like chair perched on a stage, overlooking and bestowing blessings upon her devoted followers as they present her with morning-to-evening constant flow of spiritual talks, musical performances, and original skits which highlight the importance of human morals and spiritual values.
This is the Sant Narankari Samagam, a behemoth of an event that takes place twice a year, once in Delhi in November and again in Mumbai in January, and provides millions of people from all over India with shelter, food, healthcare, compassion, and spiritual teachings, at no cost to them, for four shakti-filled, bustling, colorful days of bliss. Within the thousands of tents, one can find the largest kitchen production imaginable, a myriad of health check-ups and services, and a giant hall set up for gathering hundreds of thousands of people under one roof for spiritual teachings and singing.
We were fortunate enough to be able to take a tour of the entire event and literally could not believe our eyes at the size of this production! The Sant Narankari Samagam aims to feed about 600,000 people per day. While the food is simple, just dahl (basically a deliciously spiced lentil soup), rice, and chappati (similar to a wheat tortilla), each meal is completely made fresh from scratch right there at the Samagam. The entire event is temporary and “pop-up”, which means that there is no actual kitchen to make all of this food! Instead, there is a collection of fire pits dug into the ground with the largest pots imaginable cooking dahl on one side and rice on the other. And when I say largest pots imaginable, I mean pots the size of a hot tub that would fit 10 grown adults quite comfortably. I mean, who even makes pots that large? Perhaps they had them specially ordered together with the oversized spoons used to stir and serve the whole thing? And then there is the production of the chappati: each piece of bread is hand-rolled and toasted by one of hundreds of women volunteers, working as part of a little chappati factory. Wearing matching light blue and white outfits, the women crouch around tables of loose flour, preparing the dough and then cooking the bread upon small fire pits with a makeshift griddle on top. That’s 600,000 handmade chappati each day. WOW! The entire production was quite inspiring to witness, even the washing of dishes, which consist of men with giant tubs of dirty dishes dumping them into a pile on the ground while another guy blasts them all clean with a power hose. That’s definitely one way to do it! With a production so large and seemingly completely chaotic, somehow there is order and cadence, and everyone is always happy and fed! In addition to this incredible “kitchen” there are also a multitude of snack bars set up throughout the event with an endless variety of delicious handmade snacks for purchase.
With basic needs of food and shelter met, devotees are provided with the opportunity to address their health concerns. For most of the attendees of this event, this is the only time each year that they have access to healthcare. Services available include everything from dentists and ophthalmologists to medical doctors and of course, chiropractors! Thousands of people stand in line all day to be seen by a professional of their choice based on their individual situation. Various exams are conducted, medications are prescribed, and adjustments are delivered, all provided by volunteers in service and completely free of charge.
It was here that our hearts would be blown wide open and some of the most intense work of our lives would begin…