“The tunes of the mystic echoing in the air.
Dhol, Drums, Nagada & Shankh.
The sun still rising.
Heat, Chaos, Music & Peace.
Near the Ghats, dipping themselves, I see naked men smeared with ash.
Electric energy, I smell Hashish.
It’s a holy bash, God’s retreat.”
May 2016. Ujjain, (Simhastha Kumbh)
It was my first time at a Kumbh Mela and my journey started with the Photography Tours in India, who takes travelers from all across the world, on photography tours, and drench us in the essence of the culture of the place.
I vividly remember the mantras being chanted everywhere. The colourful little stalls, selling the things needed for Puja and Aarti. The saints and the seers and their maddening devotees, filling every inch of the air with their mystical vibes. I could see travelers & pilgrims coming from all across the world and not just India. And there, I floated along with the crowd, soaking in the sounds, the colours and the spiritual energy of the place.
As I was walking down the ghat, in a conversation with our Photography Tour Mentor, Harsh Agarwal from Photography Tours in India, I got to know that Every Hindu festival and ritual has a story behind it. They are celebrated with zeal and enthusiasm, along with having a strong scientific, historical and thoughtful basis attached with it. Historically the word ‘Kumbh’ actually means ‘A Pot’ which here emerged from the legend revolving around “Samudra Manthan” (Churning of the ocean between God & Asuras).
Photography Tours in India’s mentor told us that, The Kumbh Mela is held every three years, and switches between four different locations – Haridwar (river Ganga), Prayag (Triveni sangam of Yamuna, Ganga and Saraswati), Ujjain (river Kshipra), and Nasik (river Godavari). The mela returns to each location after a span of 12 years.
Scientifically These customs are made to lead an individual on a spiritual path where they can experience complete psychological balance, rejuvenation and relaxation. The Kumbh Mela is held on the dates when the waters of these sacred rivers are said to turn into nectar. Nectar here refers to oxygen level. Oxygen levels at these places are high on few dates. The exact dates are calculated according to a combination of zodiac positions of Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon.
I wasn’t even finished talking about the history when I got distracted on hearing a few voices echoing in full excitement, “Har Har Mahadev.” On looking towards that side, I found a group of people carrying Triident in their hands, body smeared with ash, & their hair made up into dreadlocks. Instantly, I could tell that they were the famous Naga Sadhus, who came here to attain Moksha by drenching themselves in the holy water. On a closer look I also realized that not all of them were Indians, a few of them, the white ones were from the west as well.
I was mesmerized! I was so curious to know what made the Westerners follow this path that, I literally plunged myself towards that side, to have a short talk with one of them, who I got to know was from Canada. While taking a puff of weed, the Naga baba told me that he came to India long back as a traveler and got so enchanted by the spiritual journey that he left his materialistic world behind and took a ‘Sanyas’ to meet with the beloved, God.
It was then that I understood, Kumbh isn’t just a confluence of the Amrit and the rivers. The Kumbh rather is also an amalgamation of beliefs, culture & philosophies from all around the world. I could see devotees from all across the world, taking the holy dip in the hope of cleansing their sins. I saw travelers like me, with their eyes wide open with amazement & being enchanted by the sheer energy of the place. And then, there were a few who were there just to enjoy the carnival.
Harsh from Photography Tours in India, mentioned that this was his 3rd Participation in Kumbh and will be leading groups in Allahabad 2019 and 2022 in Haridwar and 2025 in Allahabad as well.