Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Kumbh Mela in Ganges Perspective

Still on the first day of the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad we took an afternoon boat ride to see the whole spectacle from another angle. After all the festival is so focused around rivers.

At the confluence of the two rivers, Ganges and Yamuna, hundreds of boats with colourful flags are anchored.

You may wonder what this picture is supposed to show. Well, this is one of the very holiest places within Hinduism. The ripples you see on the surface of the water are a very local, but constant phenomenon. It is caused not by wind or currents per se, but rather by the confluence of the three rivers Ganges, the river Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati said to be flowing beneath the earth.

An old book floating on the holy waters gives a very melancholic feel. I was asked in a comment what this whole festival is all about. It commemorates the following legend. Thousands of years ago gods and demons made a temporary truce in order to work together to harvest the nectar of immortality - known as Amrita - from a primordial ocean of milk. All were then supposed to share the nectar equally. However, the demons - them being demons and all - decided to run away with the pitcher (Kumbh) containing the nectar. The gods managed to chase down the treacherous demons, and then in the sky battled them for control over the Kumbh for twelve days and twelve nights. Just like dogs, also gods live by different time scales than we do, so 12 of their days and nights are equivalent to 12 human years (and 84 dog years). During the battle a few drops of nectar were spilled fromt the Kumbh and fell down to earth. They landed in four different locations: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Therefore each of these places holds a large fair (Mela) running in different 12-year cycles. The Allahabad Kumbh Mela is the largest of these, totalling in 2001 over 70 million pilgrims. Every 6 years after (and thus also before) the Allahabad Kumbh Mela, a so called "half" or Ardh Kumbh Mela is held, and this is the one we attended. At this Kumbh Mela "only" 20 million showed up on the day of our visit. Would have been 19,999,992 without us.

Some of the colourful pilgrims seen from the Ganges. India is a colourful country and the Kumbh Mela probably takes the prize as the most complete explosion of colour and humans.

I have already introduced most of the friends who went with us to the Kumbh Mela. However, Emil and Lise, interns at the Danish Embassy, came later and took a boat while we were still on the way back from the fair ground in the morning. However as they were making their way back to town we spotted them from our boat and I took this shot of them.

A seagull on a floating barrel, having little idea that behind it one of the greatest festivals of mankind is taking place.

Susanna having a go at the rowing on the boat back from the Sangam. She did a pretty good job of it!

A brand new bridge leading from Allahabad over the river Yamuna.

An older bridge also leading over the Yamuna, being crossed by many people just as the sun is setting.

Boatmen getting ready to step ashore for the night.



I am happy to see the excellent coverage and the photography on the subject. It shows the amount of interest shown by the author.
Yes, India has a rich cultural heritage which most of the world has yet to see.

ŠĦÅŠĦWÃT said...

Goggling Allahabad made me stumble upon your blog post. Made my day. You're very lucky. And amazing too. Btw very nice photographs.

Esben said...


Thanks for your comment, and yes I do agree: India has an amazing heritage and has great potential for tourists to come and see it.


Yes, I was extremely lucky to be able to participate in the Kumbh Mela. I rate it as one of the very greatest experience of my life. I am telling everyone I know to start planning for the one in 2013 already :)