It is the faith that takes millions of people to the banks of the sacred rivers of Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati for the pious ritual Kumbh Mela. ‘Kumbh’ means jug and ‘Mela’ means fair. The Mela draws millions of pilgrims in approximately 48 days. The Kumbh Mela is a show that takes place on the banks of these rivers, considered the largest religious gathering in the world and also one of the oldest.
Rotating between the four cities: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik, this festival is a testament to the ancient Hindu beliefs. In Allahabad, there is the Sangam where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers converge in one, and this is the most sacred point of all. The Mela, which is organized once every 12 years, gives rise to the largest religious congregation of sadhus and pilgrims, the next date of the Kumbh Mela is in 2025.
If you do not care about the crowds, it is a unique time to see the devotees immerse themselves in the sacred waters to wash away their sins and cleanse their souls, including the Naga Sadhus, naked holy men who live alien to worldly pleasures. Pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela come from all divisions of the religion varying from Sadhus (saints) and Naga Sadhus who practice ‘sadhana’ and precisely follow an austere path of spiritual discipline, to Hermits who leave their seclusion and come to visit the civilization only during the Kumbh Mela, to seekers of spirituality, and to common people practicing Hinduism.
Everything happens in the margins of Prayagraj, a northern city of India known until recently as Allahabad. Live this event closely, walk through the endless camps and let yourself be carried away by the masses, listening to the sermons of the sadhus at night and seeing how the Hindus live their faith to the fullest, and you will never feel anywhere else in the world such a full experience of devotion and spirituality.
The course of the Kumbh Mela: The demonstrations begin with a sumptuous parade that marks its beginning and the arrival of holy men. The different beliefs parade and compete in beauty.
The most anticipated Kumbh Mela event is held three times during the celebration period. Called Shahi Snan, it consists of immersing yourself completely in the water of the river that runs through the city. Pilgrims must wait until the various leaders of each sect immerse themselves in a very precise order before being allowed to dive. This immersion allows, according to the beliefs, to assure the pilgrims and their descendants to be washed of all their sins.
The officials of the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Prayagraj is located, estimate that about 150 million people participate in the festival, which began on January 15 and will end on March 4. In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) added the event to its list of the intangible heritage of humanity.
This edition is called Ardh Kumbh and is celebrated every 6 years. There is an even bigger one: Maha Kumbh goes every 12 years, and the last one was in 2013.
There are 32 square kilometers to accommodate pilgrims, tourists, and sadhus, those ascetics or Hindu monks covered in ash. The Kumbh Mela is also a meeting time for the sadhus who belong to the 13 akhara or sects of the most important ascetics of India. They spend the day meditating and greeting visitors in exchange for a few rupees.