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

Makar Sankranti, Kumbh Mela, Allahabad

Blog Posts about Kumbh Mela

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

Photographing in Patthar Masjid, Srinagar, Kashmir (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Portrait session with young sadhu during the Kumbh Mela in Hardwar (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Photographing on the bathing ghats at Hardwar during the Kumbh Mela (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Milan Bharti making a cup of tea, Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Photographing Nihangs of the Baba Bakala Dal (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
With Nihangs in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Meeting and Greeting at Hola Mohalla in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
Gurdwara under construction at Shaeedi Bhag, Anandpur Sahib (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
First light by the Ganges in Varanasi (<a target="_blank" href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)
In the mountains near Kedarnath (<a href="httpss://dalbirsindia.wordpress.com" target="_blank">Photo by Dalbir Singh</a>)