Experience the chaotic, beautiful Kumbh Mela 2010 with this video by journalist Joel Gershon.
When I told friends and family I was going to the Kumbh Mela festival in Haridwar, India, the universal response was: “Have fun, just don’t you go into the Ganges!”
As a sometimes yoga practitioner and monotheistic Jew, I approached the journey less as spiritual necessity, and more as bucket list adventure—it’s not too often you get to be part of a pilgrimage involving millions of people, some of whom are holy men who rarely come out of their caves. And bathing in the river—this time it was the incredibly sacred and notoriously polluted Ganges—on auspicious dates like February 12 supposedly helps clear sins—always a plus.
The massive event takes place in India every three years, rotating between four holy cities—the last one in 2007 drew an estimated 17 million people. More than 100 million people were said to have attended the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela, a six-week event that occurs every 144 years, making it the largest gathering in world history. The current one goes from January 14 to April 28, with several especially holy days interspersed.
The festival commemorates the story of Lord Vishnu taking amrita kalasha (immortality nectar) from the kumbh (pot) and giving it to the mythical eagle god garuda, who was escaping from demons also after the nectar. The garuda then sprinkled four drops of the nectar on the four cities that now hold the Kumbh Mela: Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Ujjain and Nasik. Exact time and locale depends on the placements of the sun, moon and Jupiter in the sky—complicated astrological configurations, but with the sun in Aries this time around, it’s in Haridwar.
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