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.
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.
My attempt to explain the timing of the Ardh Kumbh Mela:
Haridwar is the place for the well-known Kumbh Mela. Kumbh Mela is a Hindu religious gathering which is celebrated for forty days and is the biggest religious ceremony in the world; “Kumbh Mela” translates to “Festival of Urn”. At any given place, the Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. There is a difference of around 3 years between the Kumbh Melas at each of four locations. The exact date is determined according to a combination of zodiac positions of the Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon. The Purna Kumbh Mela, the biggest and the most auspicious fair, occurs every twelve years and is organized in rotation among four places where drops of the sacred nectar spilled over: Allahabad (Prayag), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. A mass pilgrimage for the Hindu community of India, the Kumbh Mela is rumored to be one of the largest congregation of sages, yogis, ascetics, mendicants, men, women and children on the planet. But every sixth year after a Purna Kumbh Mela, an Ardh Kumbh Mela takes place. In the Hindi language the word “Ardh” stands for “half” and “Mela” means “fair”. The “Ardh Kumbh Mela” is called so because it is held at the sixth year and marks the halfway stage between the celebration of the Purna Kumbh Melas every 12 years. The Ardh Mela takes place at Haridwar & Allahabad only. And then there is the mother of all Kumbhs, the Maha Kumbh Mela which happens once every 144 years.
OK, I think they are drinking way too much spilled sacred nectar…
Art is in Haridwar, India, photographing the Kumbh Mela. Celebrated every three years in four different holy locations, the Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage. The Ganges River enters the vast Indian plain at Haridwar. In the past, Art has photographed the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, and he says this is a completely different experience. It is a smaller area and much more congested. Photography may be more difficult, but it is no less rewarding!