The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival held in one of four cities every three years, with the largest and holiest gatherings taking place every twelve years in the Indian town of Allahabad located in the southern part of Uttar Pradesh. Pilgrims from all over India and around the world gather here: gurus, spiritual leaders and their devotees, and ascetic sadhus who emerge from their solitary forest retreats and mountain caves. They come to the Sangam – the sacred confluence of three rivers: the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.
Kumbh Melas take place in twelve year cycles, alternating in such a way that about every three years a Kumbh Mela takes place. The twelve year cycle is related to the movement of the planet Jupiter through the zodiac, and when Jupiter enters Aquarius (Kumbh), the occasion is most auspicious. Many believe that when gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar, a few drops fell in the cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar – the four places where the Kumbh festival has been held for centuries.
Although the gathering is held every 12 years, this year’s festival is what is known as a Maha Kumbh, which only occurs every 144 years and is always held at Allahabad. It will last for 55 days, a period of time determined by an astrological calculation. The Allahabad Kumbh Mela is the largest and holiest of all melas and is believed to be the most auspicious. I remember seeing snippets of the 2001 Allahabad Kumbh Mela on the TV and ever since had set my mind on being at the 2013 Kumbh Mela. On the 8th February 2013, along with Simon, Jaquie, Bridget, Hilary, Paul, Graham, Keith, Hira and Vishnu, we arrived in Allahabad.
As we drove across the bridge into Allahabad we could not believe our eyes as below us the tented Mela grounds stretched as far as we could see – and beyond.
The Kumbh Mela brings together devotees from across India and around the world. This mass gathering of humanity shares the common goal of bathing in the holy waters of the Allahabad Sangam. Astonishingly more than 100 million people were expected to attend the 55 day event in total. After checking in at our hotel we jumped into rickshaws and made our way to the mela grounds for our first Kumbh experience. Two days before the main bathing day and a constant stream of people were patiently making their way into the grounds. On the 9th February the crowds had really increased and walking for several miles was the only way to get into the grounds. We would be camping this night in the centre of the Mela grounds in readiness for the main day – the 10th February.