Kumbh Mela in Allahabad

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When I jumped a train and rode three hours out of Varanasi to Allahabad, I knew I was going to a very large Hindu religious festival. Little did I know it would be one of the largest gatherings of people in human history, if not the largest.

An estimated 70 million people (!) attended the 45-day festival to wash in the place where the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers meet. A third mythological river, the Sarasvati River, is also said to join them here.

According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a celestial war spilling nectar from a pitcher, or kumbh, at Allahabad and three other places. The festival rotates places every few years to these spots with this one being a “Half Pitcher Festival” or “Ardh Kumbh Mela.” A larger festival, the “Maha Kumbh Mela” or “Grand Pitcher Festival”, takes place every 12 years.

The pictures here are of the temporary tent city that sprang up to house all these devotees. Food stalls, religious tents offering teachings from gurus, latrines, water access, roads, bridges and everything else have been constructed specifically for this event.

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I journeyed with a couple friends and we rented a tent for two nights. This is the first time in India where I have found little to no English being spoken (but we had a Hindi speaker with us). I literally saw no other foreigners the three days I wandered the site.

Its quite strange to have crowds gather around you to stare when you are doing nothing. Going about normal activities like having lunch or reading a book, people would just stand around looking. The “landlord” of our tent site and his family would often just burst into our tent late in the evening or early (4 a.m. early) in the morning to see what we were doing. Huh?? Very annoying and he got some snarly responses which he only understood by tone of voice. And he tried his best to get all the rupees possible out of us.

Trying to ignore the spectators

Trying to ignore the spectators

The Kumbh Mela was a great experience filled with people full of religious fervor. Gurus could be seen carried in chairs on their followers shoulders. More than 20,000 police were on patrol. Sadhus were in full power, smoking chillums and preparing bhang, including groups of Nag Sadhus who renounce even their clothes.

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Naga Sadhus from ’98 Mela, Courtesy of Wikipedia

And yes, I did take a dip. With boxers on, I dunked myself in the cold river waters and (possibly) emerged sin free.

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[More info and sources]

  1. BBC: Millions Bathe at Hindu Festival
  2. Washington Post: Millions of Hindus Wash Away Their Sins
  3. Gods, Gurus and the Ganges: Report from the 2001 Mela in Allahabad


3 Comments

  1. Owen wrote:

    Hey, just so you don’t think no one in Japan is following your blog I wanted to leave a comment. I really like the use of external photos (wikiphoto), your own, and the historical facts/narrative that are in your blog posts. They really give context and help the reader better comprehend the events and places you are visiting.

    Stay safe and good luck on the next leg of your journey.

    Owen in Inukai

  2. Daweed wrote:

    Hey Ty,
    thanx a lot for this.. brings a lot of beautiful memories. We’ve had a great time there 🙂
    See you again somewhere.. drop a message in my mailbox in case you want to come to Czech 🙂
    Bom Shiva!

  3. Daniel wrote:

    Thanks for the great article. You might also like to have a look at a comprehensive article that I have written on the Kumbh Mela (together with some beautiful photographs done by the very talented Enrico Fabian). You will find it here: http://blog.knowledge-must.com/archives/13-Kumbh-Mela-The-Most-Wonderful-Sight-in-India.html