Much has been made of the Kumbh Mela lately because it is such an extraordinary event – a mass Hindu pilgrimage, largest in the world. Each Kumbh, tens of millions of pilgrims descend upon one of four Indian cities to celebrate and bathe in sacred rivers.
The location for the Kumbh Mela rotates each time, roughly every three years, with smaller celebrations occurring at each city during various off-years. These dates are dictated by the Vikram Samvat, or historical Hindu calendar.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting during this spectacular event multiple times throughout my career:
2001 – Allahabad
This visit to Kumbh Mela ended up producing one of my most popular images – Spiritual Journey.
2007 – Allahabad
I returned in Allahabad in 2007 for the “Ardh” or “half” Kumbh Mela with our Travels to the Edge crew. This trip is featured in Travels to the Edge: Season 1, episode 11.
2010 – Haridwar
2013 – Allahabad
This occasion was a “Maha” or “Great” Kumbh Mela – over 120 million people attended!
If you’re ever able to attend this historic spiritual event, it’s well worth the trip to witness the spirituality and dedication of the pilgrims who attend. Though popularity and exposure has risen over recent years, it’s a sacred event that exemplifies spirituality through the dedication and sacrifice. Rarely seen in the public eye, the Kumbh Mela offers a rare chance to witness the emergence of the sadhus, or holy men, who spend most of their lives in isolated meditation and deprivation who come and further display their dedication through discomfort as they bathe in the melted glacial waters of their sacred rivers.
An upcoming Ardh Kumbh Mela takes place this year in Allahabad (officially known as Prayagraj), and the next Kumbh Mela will happen in 2022 at Haridwar.