“Kumbh mele mein bichadgaye,” which loosely translates to ‘getting separated at the Kumbh Mela’ is a metaphor we have all grown up with thanks to Bollywood’s most-used clichés. A visit to the Uttar Pradesh Kumbh Conclave 2019 by the UP Government however will bust several myths and open your eyes to a world that is novel, colourful, spiritual, commercial and crowded.
Pious in Prayagraj
Said to be a prominent spiritual centre, Prayagraj, the new name for the city of Allahabad has been described in scriptures as the holiest pilgrimage centres in India. Perhaps the fact that it is situated on the Triveni or Holy Sangam where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet gives it this tag. This also makes it the venue of sacred fairs, and the Kumbh Mela is arguably among the biggest of them all. Legend has it when the gods and demons were churning the ocean for nectar, and it was being taken back, four drops spilled on Prayagraj, Ujjain, Nashik and Haridwar, which are now the venues of the Kumbh Mela. While the mela happens once in six years, the Magh Mela happens annually between January and February. And the Mahakumbh Mela happens once every 12 years. Taking a ceremonial dip in the river during this time period — the mela which is currently on from January 15 to March 4, 2019 is said to help people break free from the cycle of birth and death and attain liberation. This is one of the main reasons you will see people from all faiths come together to take a dip in the sangam area of the holy rivers.
Sights and Sadhus
One of the most common colours you will see at the Kumbh is saffron thanks to the large congregation of sadhus and godmen who throng the mela. This also means, you have several photo opportunities as well as personal stories to captivate you. Most of the sadhus and people taking part are willing to talk, and you will come away with some of the most inspiring stories. For instance, the story of octogenarian Pritam Singh, from Baitul in Madhya Pradesh — He is 86-years-old, and has walked 10 km to reach the Kumbh site, his fifth trip incidentally. Singh feels that his family is most fortunate to be able to visit the Kumbh. If you are here, a must-visit is the evening aarti that happens on the banks of the Sangam that is magical and beautiful, against a backdrop of the setting sun which creates a stunning visual that remains with you much after you have left the place. One of the key highlights of the Kumbh is the presence of the elusive Naga Sadhus who are said to be the preservers of faith, and who throng to the mela in large numbers. In fact, on the important days, it is these sadhus who take a dip called the Maha Snaan first, before others do. Having renounced everything, these Sadhus are naked and cover themselves with ash and rudraksh beads. However, if you are taking a picture, make sure you first take their permission as many of them expect a tip in return!
A massive tent city has been built on the banks of the Sangam and it offers a range of tented accommodation for people to take part in the mela. Being on the banks of the river, you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise (be prepared to brave the cold) and see some amazing birds too. The mela is surprisingly clean, and this has been courtesy the 1.2 lakh plus toilets and efficient garbage management systems in place. To ensure that the river is clean, there are people stationed at the banks to remove anything that is tossed inside, and this has ensured that the Kumbh Mela is a green one. Ashish Goel, divisional commissioner, Prayagraj in fact has said that the state will attempt three world records at Kumbh in the areas of sanitation, transportation and paint my city, a street art initiative that has seen 22 million square feet of walls painted across the city. There are a variety of experiences that ensure there is something for everyone. Explore the creative centre Kalagram that has 13 pavilions and seven cultural centres that exhibit arts and craft. There are also several cultural events which include performances by folk and tribal artists. The mela has also gone tech-savvy this year, and you can experience a 360 degree virtual reality experience of Kumbh 2019 set up at main locations that allows you to see the action, virtually. So what are you waiting for? Chalo Kumbh Chale.