About Kumbh Mela

The numbers are staggering, the breadth and scale of the event astounding but these in isolation do not come close to getting a sense of the Kumbh Mela. The only way to begin to appreciate the magnitude of this religious festival is to be there; to walk amidst the countless millions, to hear the relentless reverberating hum of humanity day and night and to see the raw devotion of the seething Hindu multitude moving as one to and from their ritual bath.

They come as they have always done at this most auspicious of occasions to bathe in the waters to rid themselves of all sin. Although a holy dip is the central focus of virtually all who travel to the Kumbh Mela it is more than just a bathing experience. It is a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey of personal transformation and a divine celebration of the Hindu myth of creation. Every level of society is represented from every corner of India. Many stay for just a day or two while some remain, like the Monastic Orders or Akharas, in their tented encampments, for the whole three months. It is a time for blessing, meditation and prayer, spiritual nourishment and for passing and acquiring knowledge. The Kumbh is a time too when many find a guru and when thousands of shaven headed novices make their own personal commitment and become initiated into the sadhu brotherhood.

The event takes place every three years at one of four sacred sites in the northern half of India which host it in strict rotation. It thus takes twelve years for the Kumbh Mela to return to the same location. This twelve year cycle is related to Jupiter’s journey through the Zodiac and is charted by expert astrologers who, in consultation with heads of the senior Akharas, fix the dates of the main bathing days and the period of the festival itself.

During these special bathing days, or royal baths as they are called, the members of the sanyasi Akharas command precedence over all others and bathe first. As dawn breaks, thousands of these largely naked ash smeared renunciants make their way in joyful procession to the sacred bathing areas. There is something primeval about this spectacle and witnessing it only serves as a reminder of how ancient are the origins of this timeless religious fair.

Photographs of Kumbh Mela

Pavan Dass
A morning prayer
Evening Arti
Basant Panchami
Balak Dass finishes adjusting his turban
Parkash Muni smokes a chilum
Sunset over the Sangam
Sunrise at the Kumbh
Aarti by the ganges
Sun sets over the festival
Naga procession to bathe
Naga Babas by the fire
Maha Dev Giri and two chelas
Evening Aarti
Balak Muni
Udasin reading the Gita
Haridwar Dass Udasin
Maha Dev Giri
Kedara Anand Giri
Ash tika
Surayand Sarswati
Prayer songs Kumbh Mela
Early morning Aarti Kumbh Mela
Vasu Dev Giri meditates
Kamlesh Giri
Ram Bharti
Sadhus walk to their initiation ceremony
Baharat Rajandera Nand Sarswati
Karan Giri overlooks initiates
Juna Akhara initiates
Kedara Anand Giri and chela
Naga Babas bathe in the Ganges, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Boatman, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Young sannyasi, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Ganges at Dawn, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Makar Sankranti, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Naga Babas, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Evening Ritual, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Rajasthani Pilgrim, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Bathing and Prayers, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Naga Baba, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Hindu Austerity, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Finishing a Cigarette, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Sadhu Portrait, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Ash Smeared Sadhu, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Seva Dar, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Sadhu Kumbh Mela, Hardwar.
Evening Bathing Ritual, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Nandi Bharti, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Prayers, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Celebrating With Fire, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Rebirth, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Brightly Coloured Tent, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
The Mark of Lord Shiva, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Morning Bathing, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Udasin Meditates, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Naga Baba outside his tent, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Royal Bath, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Har Ki Puri, Hardwar, Kumbh Mela
After His Bath, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Bathing Ghat, Kumnb Mela, Hardwar
Morning Mantra, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Seated Naga Baba, Kumbh Mela Hardwar
Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Sacred Fire, Kumbh Mela, Hardwar
Personal Prayers, Kumbh Mela Allahabad
The Ganges at Hardwar, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Sadhu, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad
Hindu Sannyasi, Kumbh Mela Allahabad
Monks, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad

Blog Posts about Kumbh Mela

Akshay Giri begins Aarti in the early morning inside their tented encampment: Kumbh Mela, Prayag

Twelve Years to Create a Photograph

I am a photographer who is prepared to wait, to be patient and not to rush into certain situations. In my experience it is sometimes so much more worthwhile not to pursue a photograph the instant I find myself in […]

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Meditation In front of Fire

Portraits of the Spiritually Reclusive

Thinking about it now, I don’t think I have ever been refused a photograph by anyone I have sat and drank tea with. In India it is an essential ice breaker; a liquid preamble to any really meaningful social discourse and a chance for your host to get the measure of you.

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Nick Fleming Behind the Lens

Nick Fleming photographing a pilgrim on the ghat s at Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Milan Bharti making a cup of tea, Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Gurdwara under construction at Shaeedi Bhag, Anandpur Sahib (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Portrait session with young sadhu during the Kumbh Mela in Hardwar (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
In the mountains near Kedarnath (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Photographing in Patthar Masjid, Srinagar, Kashmir (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Resting at Gaumukh, source of the Ganges (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
First light by the Ganges in Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
On the path up to Gaumukh (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Near Jammu (<a href="http://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)