The Kumbh Mela festival is considered to be the largest in the world, attracting estimates of 40 million people on the most special of all the 55 days of the festival. This year however, experts predict more than 100 million people will take the waters, to celebrate this year’s full Kumbh Mela celebration.
The Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival that takes place every 12 years, with half festivals (Ardh Kumbh Mela) taking place every 6 years, on the banks of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati. The first Kumbh Mela festival to be recorded was noted by a Chinese traveller to the country in 629 AD, in which the traveller was astounded by the mass gathering, but only since the early nineties has the number of revellers has increased so drastically, reaching as many as 70 million in the year in 2007.
The rivers, which are supposedly filled with a few drops of nectar, spilled from a fight between gods and demons over a jug of nectar, are believed to purify a soul by purging the sins of those who bathe in its waters, and releasing the believer from the cycle of reincarnation, and allowing them to achieve Moksha or liberation.
On the first day, a Hindi language newspaper reported an astonishing 30,000 police were sent out to manage the visitors, which resulted in a first day without incident.
Many Hindus queued for hours to have the chance to bathe in the Sangam, the point at which 2 rivers Ganges and Yamuna meet, which the experience has been described as ‘bathing in nectar itself.’
Health services concerned about festival goers drinking from the highly polluted rivers, as many Hindus like to take a few sips and even transport some of the river water home. As a precautionary measure this year, local authorities ordered several gallons of fresh water to be dumped into the reservoirs further up the river in preparation for the festival.
This Kumbh Mela will cost local authorities 11.5 billion rupees (£130 million) this year to organise, but the festival is predicted to increase business in the area drawing in more than 120 billion rupees in return.