NAKALI: A dried-up and polluted lake in eastern India has become a major pilgrimage site after claims that its mud cures cancer and other diseases.
At the lake in Nakali village, 70 kilometres south of Kolkata, families smear each other with the dark, gluey “miracle mud”, defying government attempts to prevent the site becoming a religious attraction. Each Tuesday and Saturday – auspicious days for Bengalis – large crowds of devotees who have travelled from across the region gather before dawn to completely immerse themselves in the sludge at the bottom of the small lake. “They arrive overnight in trucks, chartered buses and trains from different parts of the state,” said Suman Mondal, who sells lemon water to the mainly Hindu pilgrims. “People are not only bathing and covering their body and hair with mud, they are drinking water and taking mud from the pond as well. It’s a miracle pond,” he said.
Kanti Ganguly, the West Bengal state minister for the Sunderbans region, said the government wanted to end the increasingly popular pilgrimage. “People started to throng to the pond for a bath after a rumour that a man was cured of liver cancer by taking dips,” he said. “Authorities have imposed a ban on gathering in and around the pond as its waters are so polluted that drinking the water or taking a bathe could be unhealthy,” he said. Ganguly added that policemen had been stationed around the lake but people poured in nonetheless. “We can’t hurt their faith,” he said. The phenomenon has continued to grow even though the “cured” man has now died.
He was a member of the family that owns the lake. Some say the family is motivated by the money it collects from food and drink stalls that serve pilgrims, but devotees like Biswajit Haldar, 56, are in no doubt about the pond’s curative powers. “We are not bothered what the government says. My wife was suffering from throat cancer for over two years. She is now better after smearing her body with mud of the pond,” he said, sitting in the knee-deep mire.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 26th, 2010.