It’s raining cats and dogs in Delhi, people.  The rain gods really seem to have descended upon us, unlike the rest of their brethren who are supposedly in Allahabad right now for the Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela, what is billed as the largest and greatest religious gathering on the planet.

Astonishingly, the 2013 festival is speculated to draw over 100 million people to Allahabad. The last one in 2010 in Haridwar had over 30 million on the busiest day of the festival. In Sharell Cook’s words… forgive me, lets introduce Sharell to you first. So, Sharell writes about everything and anything interesting in India that would help and tempt tourists to visit those places, events and festivals. Yes, so since she covers the whole lot right from the best toilets in Cherrapunji to how many footsteps you can take at the Indo China border before those fellows on the other side shoot you down, so it is but obvious that she give expansive information about the Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela.

In her words, “The Kumbh Mela in India is as mesmerizing as it is spiritual. This ancient northern Indian festival is a meeting of mystical minds. The largest religious gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela brings Hindu holy men together to discuss their faith and disseminate information about their religion. It’s attended by millions of people each day.”

Quite fascinating, eh? Well, the lines left a deep impact on me, and hence I spent a disproportionate amount of time alternating between reading about the festival and sighing about how pretty she is. Cook I mean, not Allahabad. I have been convinced enough to believe that there are several reasons why as soon as each one of you reads this post, you should get up from your seats, scream ‘Maha kumbh, Maha kumbh’ and run full pelt out of office. The running part is essential, because otherwise your employer might just smack you for screaming so inanely.

Anyway, let us tell you some of the reasons why you should attend the Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela 2013.

1) There are Sadhus coming

. A lot of them. A certain bunch of them, called the Naga Sadhus, come absolutely naked with ash smeared all over their body, dreadlocks et al. Their eyes are usually bloodshot because of the marijuana they have been smoking, and they believe that the drug causes enlightenment. And pilgrims from all over the country and world, follow them, straining to hear every ‘enlightened’ word they utter.

 Naga Sadhu to himself : Bhains ki taang, kya thand hai! Faltu mein Naga banwa diya (English translation: Holy crap man, its *** cold. This being naked is not all that great}

 Overawed Pilgrim 1 to confused pilgrim 2: “Holy mother of God, that is so right! I already feel transformed. Didn’t I tell you he was brilliant. He is so right, it is cold.”

 Cynical Pilgrim 3: Is that a javelin? Or is that Naga Sadhu just happy to see me?

Then there is another sect of Sadhus, the Shirshasinse -  they remain standing, sleeping with their heads propped up against a vertical pole. When they meditate, they do so standing on their heads.

I think it would be great fun to tickle their soles when they are standing upside down, and see what happens then.

2) Purifying yourself

The main event of the Kumbh Mela is the bathing ritual in the holy waters – Ganga in Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik, Shipra in Ujjain and Sangam in Allahabad. There are days marked for what is supposed to the most auspicious bathing time. The belief is that if you bathe yourself in these waters during this sacred time period, you shall be absolved of all your sins.

Sounds totally correct. Jump into a river with 30 million other people and pop out all pure 100% vanaspati ghee like. So what if there are thousands excreting in the river every day of the year, lakhs cleaning their clothes, industries dumping wastes, and when you jump into the river, chances are your leg will land on someone else’s intestine;  but nossir, if we are told we can hop in and hop out and become purified, by jove we shall jump. Amen!

Fact: In the Nasik Kumbh Mela of 2003, 39 pilgrims were trampled to death and 57 injured. Over 30,000 devotees who had gathered at the Godavari river for the religious bath, were held back by barricades so that the sadhus could have a ceremonial bath first. Reportedly one sadhu threw coins at the crowd, and the rest, well it is history.

3) The Hatha Yogis

Not just sadhus, saints and pilgrims, the Allahabad Mahakumbh Mela 2013 will also see the presence of Hatha Yogis, a clan that try to attain spiritual nirvana through rigid (read: weird) practices that they have pledged (hatha means pledge) to adhere to, come what may.

For eg. Jhoola Baba has resolved that a wooden jhoola he has set up near the river will be his home for the next two months. He remains quite unruffled by the large number of curious onlookers that gather around him. I wonder if he’ll allow me to stay in his house for a day.

Then there’s Swami Tyagi Maharaj who has pierced his body with 21,000 metal needles and will be staying at the Hanuman temple near the river for the entirety of the Mahakumbh Mela. We must also meet the sadhu who has a two feet long mustache, and who claims he has kept this ‘hatha’ for the last forty years. Prod him a bit, and he says “it does require a lot of care”. The hint of rueful emotion in his voice does not go unnoticed.

4) To understand what friendship means

There are a pair of guys from the Juna Akhara there who have already set up camp at the Allahabad Mahakumbh Mela 2013. Onlookers watch smilingly as one of them carries the other on his shoulder, daily, to take a holy dip in the water. He does so, because his friend is blind.

Hear that people. If any of my friends are reading this, you can carry me boys and girls. No, I am not blind, just lazy.

5) For the sheer numbers the festival draws

A football world cup stadium can hold a lakh, 1.5 lakh people at most. Multiply that five hundred times now. Imagine a hundred million people in one city. Imagine, fifty million people on the river banks in one day. It is colossal, jaw dropping, overwhelming. Also, incredibly sweaty.

The city has built 56 kilometres of new road for the festival. 26,000 metric tones of food will be distributed, and 35,000 toilets stand tall, to take care of  what usually happens once the food is digested.

Can you feel the power? Sadhus walking all around, people chanting, people jumping into the water, people losing every single inhibition, people screaming, sadhus smoking, people pushing, the air electric with the fervor, it is as unreal as a place can ever get, it is not 2013, it is a different era altogether. Not for anything is it called the greatest gathering on earth, not for nothing is it called the greatest show on earth. Think about it, that is what Sharell Cook was talking about, wasn’t she.

100 million people and 35,000 toilets. Hehe, there are going to be lots of red faced people holding their ‘thing’ in, clenching their butts, waiting outside the toilet doors.


Neeraj Narayanan

At WeAreHolidays, Neeraj Narayanan is Head of the Content and Digital Media Team. He has a Masters in Advertising & Media Communication, has had experience as a Communication Consultant to the Government of Gujarat, and as a Brand man in the IT giant firm - Cognizant.

On weekends, he conducts Heritage Walks in Delhi.

Neeraj Narayanan – who has written posts on WAH Blog.