As one of the world’s largest peaceful gatherings, Kumbh Mela is full of colour, different faiths, and masses of people.
It is India’s most venerated large-scale festival, combining religion and spiritualism, and is attended by those who desire to seek solace through their beliefs, gathering to bathe in the sacred river.
According to Hindu theology, a war took place between gods and demons, causing the ocean to churn. From this churning emerged Amrut Kumbh, the nectar of immortality, signifying the goodness of an eternal life, free from sins. Lord Indra’s son Jayanta flew away with the pot to protect it and keep it on side. As Jayanta flew away, drops of the nectar are said to have fallen to earth in four places – Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjan and Nashik, where the fesitval of Kumbh Mela is celebrated.
The main event of Kumbh Mela is the Shahi Snans, a royal bath in which all who take part are cleansed of sin. This bath is associated with the configuration of the sun, the moon, earth and jupiter aligning in one constellation of Leo. In Sanskrit, “Leo” means Simha, resulting in Nashik’s Kumbh Mela to be known as Simhastha Kumbh Mela.
The royal processions of Simhasta Kumbh Mela Nashik and Trimbakeshwar 2015 saw sadhus and mahants sitting in decorated chariots, many displaying martial arts with weapons such as swords and sticks, and the first to bathe. The processions were accompanied by traditional music on the drums, and sadhus rushing to the river. The narrow lanes of Trimbakeshwar were abuzz with pilgrims, some having happily walked over 1o kilometres to reach the Kushawarta, the bathing pond, driven by the spirit of religion.
Traditionally, the shaiva akhadas have sages who are unclothed- they remain so during the holy procession and bath, but at other times of the pilgrimage, they do not. This nakedness symbolises the path taken to and to the service of God.
Throughout this month, the akhadas of Nashik and Trimbakeshwar conduct discourses, chanting Vedic verses, reciting devotional songs and messages from religious scriptures, and even conferences on topics relating to the building of the nation, such as water and river pollution.
To understand the grandeur of the pilgrimage, one must experience the Kumbh Mela, and the mass of people who use faith to find the answers in a life that has become hectic and complicated, drawn by faith and belief.
Words by Shubhalaxmi Balajiwale
Photography by Boguslaw Maslak