India Insight

Photo gallery: Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela 2013

February 19, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

Even if faith didn’t bring you all the way to Allahabad’s Kumbh Mela to wash away your sins, a visit to the largest religious congregation on earth can be overwhelming and surprisingly rejuvenating.

But faith does move millions…

Devotees walk for miles to reach the mela complex from the Allahabad railway station, believing that a dip at the sangam (confluence of holy rivers) would drown a lifetime of sins.

It’s easy to spot the naked, intoxicated, ash-smeared sadhus. They are everywhere.

But you cannot miss the irony. The water in the so-called cleanser of human sins has been deemed unfit for bathing.

The brackish water felt cold as I stood waist-deep with some photographers on Feb. 10, the second and the most auspicious day of the Kumbh Mela. In the exclusive bathing areas, policemen and lifeguards ensure that your dip is timed by the clock — not more than 15 seconds or three dips.

The naga sadhus have become the representative image of the mela. Aggressive and unpredictable, these self-styled godmen hold court inside pitched tents. Devotees flock to them for blessings, showering rupee notes. A few also sit with them to share a puff of chillum, a drug most naga sadhus can’t live without.

I found a woman mendicant smoking too, nonchalantly posing for photographers.

Be it the saffron turbans of the sadhus or their saffron-hued tents or the massive religious processions and sloganeering, you cannot miss the overpowering, at times cacophonous, elements of this Hindu festival.

The holiest day of the dip was marred by a stampede at the Allahabad railway station. The newspaper headline (below) reads: ‘Tragedy on Mauni Amavasya, 40 dead’.

Unfortunately, religious gatherings in India are not new to stampedes and for millions of devotees streaming to Allahabad for the ancient festival, death is a risk they need to take.

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