- Date: 27th Jan (lasts for 55 days)
- Location: Allahabad
What is the Kumbh Mela?
Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival, fair and religious gathering which attracts millions of pilgrims from all over India. It is the largest human gathering event in the world. In 2007 more than 75 million people gathered in Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela. There are four places where the event is held and they are considered to be some of the holiest Hindu places in India:
- Godavari river in Nashik in the state of Maharastra
- Shipra river in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh
- Ganges river in Haridwar in Uttarakhand
- Allahabad or Prayag in Uttar Pradesh
For Hindus, bathing in these holy waters is the highest aspiration for it is associated with the mythological God’s nectar mentioned in Indian mythology and is known as Amrit- immortal nectar. Who wouldn’t want to have that?
Kumbh Mela 2013?
The festival happens every 4 years usually in Jan or Feb depend on the astrological constellation. The Kumbha Mela 2013 is not just an ordinary one it is the Maha Kumbha Mela which is the biggest one which will be in Allahabad only every 6 and 12 years. Allahabad or Prayag is where the waters of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers join together. It is called Sangam- convergence.
It is not only the water that joins together but also India’s past future and present converge in this place. Stories that had arrived with pilgrims from the remotest corners of India merge together into one collective narrative that spread out like tiny rivers for those who were left behind.
Some even would argue that the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad played a major role in redefining the Hindu identity in the time of colonial India and helped to spread the nationalist message throughout the sub-continent. Taking a bath in the Sangam which is the heart of the Kumbh Mela festival is the place where differences and unfamiliarity can be overcome.
Here is how Swami Vishwadevananda Ji Maharaj put it:
“The Sangam of three rivers is giving one message. From different directions, three rivers are coming here with great force. They have their own respective backgrounds and uniqueness. Before they meet they had their own directions and after the meeting all the three merged their identities into one even their flow was not disrupted we must try to merge ourselves as one”
Quotation from Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954 by Kama Maclean
Kumbh Mela an Indian Sadhus freak show
For Hindu pilgrims, the major reason that motivates them to leave everything behind and hit the road is no less than to see Sadhus (ascetic who has left behind all material goods) in action!
The Kumbh Mela festival hosts the entire spectrum of Hindu society but more than everything else it is identified (historically and principally) with Indian Sadhus.
In 2001, more than 180,000 Sadhus from various Akharas (groups) travelled from all over India to attend the festival.
But what makes Sadhus so attractive in the eyes of Indian people?
Since the beginning of Indian civilization Sadhus were considered to know something ordinary people did not.
Sadhus are willing to go where no one else has the courage to go and to do what other people won’t dare to do. They are willing to cross the lines of the most precious values of Indian society. Death, for Indian people represents the absolute form of impurity.
During the Kumbh Mela Indians come to look at them displaying their bizarre ways of expressing indifference to pain; lying on thorns, endure extremes of heat and cold and deform their bodies in ways you can’t possibly imagine.
“The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step outside the frame” Salman Rushdi
You might consider this as a freak show like most Indian people who witness these kind Yogis practices. The Kumbha Mela is the Sadhus crazy celebration. However, there is something deeper in this craziness like Salman Rushdi once said ‘Only the outsider can see the whole picture’. Craziness allows Sadhus to step outside of the day-to-day picture; it allows them to challenge the Brahmins purity (upper caste), it enables them to fly above the restrictions of human body.
Who are sadhus?
Sadhus, are those that have left the material life, they are socially dead to their kin and throughout their Yogi practice they continue to articulate this deadness. They smear their body with ash (vibhuty) as a sign that the body is mere ash. Sadhus are inherently powerful beings capable of bestowing blessing on the pilgrims who seek Darshan (blessing which can be attained only from the act of looking). In certain ways, they possess the quality of Gods as they are fearless. The famous encounter between Rajas (Kings) and Sadhus in Indian literature demonstrate how strong the appeal of Sadhus are, as powerful characters in the Indian collective thought.
Sadhus, because they step outside of the ‘picture’ and keep questioning each and every core value of Hindu society they are such a cohesive force, a mirror image of the culture. This is probably what many pilgrims see when they look deep in the water of the Sangam in Allahabad where the three rivers joined together.