Kumbh Mela 2013 : The World's Largest Gathering

The Kumbh Mela at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, India happens once every 12 years with 2013 being considered the most auspicious gathering for 144 years. Allahabad, situated at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers is complimented by the mythical Saraswati river to form one of the most sacred places in Hindu belief and philosophy. A dip at the intersection of rivers known as the Triveni Sangam is considered to purge sins and assist one on the path to Moksha (liberation)

A “pop up megacity” as a research team from Harvard called it, the Kumbh Mela is well known for its spectacular gatherings of pilgrims and congregations of saints, seers, philosophers, gurus, preachers and disciples. An estimated 80 to 100 Million people visit during the festival’s 6 week duration beginning in mid January with the most auspicious bathing days attracting more than 7 million bathers along the banks of the rivers.

Although most media attention focuses on the rituals at the Sangam (most sacred bathing area) the temporary settlement is over 20km sq km and is one of the most complex event planning undertakings on earth with a transitory residency larger than the population of a European country. For the period of the Mela, eighteen temporary pontoon bridges are built along with the supply of electricity, water, basic sanitation, food and a dedicated police force of 30 000.

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The pilgrims arrive
Pilgrims heading to the Sangam
Tent encampments
Tent encampments
Building work
Rail bridge above the city with Coca Cola advertisments in English and Hindi.
Thoroughfares
Preparations
The pontoon bridges across the Ganges
View across the city
Diverse methods of conveyance
Guru advertising billboard
Enlightenment
Sadhu with adornments
Shastri bridge
Morning on the Ganges
Holy men outside the Akharas
Inside the tent encampment
View over the Ganges
Sadhu and billboard
A little Goddess and her mother
Pilgrim with belongings
Sadhus arriving early morning at the confluence of rivers
Offerings to the Ganges
Congregations before dawn at the Sangam
The Sangam at dawn
Bathing rituals at the Sangam
Sand bank on the Ganges
Across the river
Offerings at the Sangam
Offerings at the Sangam
Offerings at the Sangam
Offerings at the Sangam
Prayers to the Ganges
Offerings to the Ganges
Bathing in the Ganges
Prayer book
Begging for rice
Temple inside a tent, the Akharas
Bike belonging to one legged Sadhu, the Akharas
The big Baba of the Akharas
Getting high, smoking the chillum in the Akharas
Convening in the Akharas
Preferred currency
Elephant receiving offerings of money and passing them up to his owner, the Akharas
Laughing Naga Sadhus
Resting Naga Sadhus
A little Goddess
Pilgrim
Naga Sadhu in a bed of thorns with a vow to keep one arm raised
View across the tent encampments
Offerings to the Ganges
Flower garland
Sunset at the confluence of the rivers
The little Goddess
All images © Shaun Fynn