Tales of the Kumbh Mela, the Largest Gathering On Earth

David Joshua Jennings takes us into the heart of India for  Haridwar’s Kumbh Mela Festival, which happens to be the largest gathering on earth. His incredible experience is unlike any other, and he takes GoNOMAD right along with him and the other millions of pilgrims that attend this festival.

Kumbh Mela, in Haridwar, India, is the largest gathering in the world. Photos by David Joshua Jennings.
Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering in the world. Photos by David Joshua Jennings. Click on photo to enlarge.

Over the bridges by the tens of thousands, shouting, chanting, singing, thrusting spears and tridents into the air, some painted orange, some wrapped in pink or saffron robes, some naked, some wearing crowns and capes, some bearded, some with swords, some with long matted hair, some adolescent, some old enough to have seen British rule, barefoot and hobbling forward, possessed by some mysterious mystical glee, down, into the Ganges they come.
Far off through the polluted distance a 30 meter tall bronze Shiva statue lords above the scene, his colossal hand frozen in blessing. A snake the size of an oil pipeline wraps around his neck. In the Ganges that flows nearby, splashing past like salmon, are those who have thrown themselves into the current, allowing it to sweep them between the millions of pilgrims that line the banks downriver.
The crowds fluctuate and shimmer like jellyfish, churning and changing as they await their turn to climb down the ghat steps and lower themselves into the water.
Among these multitudes a group of policemen parts the crowd like the keel of a canoe, tweeting whistles and swinging clubs in an attempt to instill order. An old man, perhaps eighty, little more than a skeleton, is carried past them and lowered into the river by his sons.
He gasps as the icy water swallows his body and then, as if suddenly narcotized, goes mild-eyed and limp as they hoist him up and vanish back into the crowd.

Today is full moon day, the Shakh Purnima Snan, the final and most auspicious bathing date of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world.
The day has only just begun.
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