HINDU FESTIVALS – WHAT HOLY DIP IN MAHAKUMBH AND ARDHKUMBH IN PRAYAGRAJ MEANS!

HINDU FESTIVALS – WHAT HOLY DIP IN MAHAKUMBH AND ARDHKUMBH IN PRAYAGRAJ MEANS?

This blog is about the largest festival of the world. On the auspicious day of Mauni Amavasya during the Ardhkumbh 2019, 5,00,00,000 Hindus took a holi dip in Ganga river, locally known as Ganga Maiyya or Ganga Maa. Both Maiyya and Maa means mother. I had also attended the Mahakumbh in 2013. This blog is based upon both the Kumbh experiences, 6 years apart. Kumbh festivities changed a lot in the past 6 years. So had I, I discovered!

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Sadhu or the holy man. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ : A SPIRIRITUAL JOURNEY!

This happened in the Mahakumbh 2013 in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. As soon as I reached the Kumbh Mela grounds, I was pulled by the chants of Hare Rama, Hare Krishna in a distance.

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The white woman dancing on the tunes of Hare Ram, Hare Krishn. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I ran towards the direction of sound and stumbled upon this scene – A foreigner woman dressed awkwardly in a sari (On a T shirt, meh!) and danced to the tunes of the holy Hindu bhajan; a man on dholak (Indian musical instrument) sang along, another one sold Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta (Hindu Holy book) to passer byes.

Sadhu Saint Ardhkumbh Mahakumbh Magh Kumbh Mela Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh (41)

A sadhu. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

A man dancing behind the foreigner woman was a local, who, like many others was pulled in the whirlpool of ‘Bhakti’ (Devotion), dancing in a trance like stance like no one’s watching.

Sangam Ardhkumbh Mahakumbh Magh Kumbh Mela Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh (25)

Sunrise at Sangam is the most pure thing you will ever experience. A dip here on Mauni Amavasya is a must! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I stood there alone, observed, smiled to no one and soaked in the intense atmosphere. Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj is the biggest leveler that the universe has ever seen or will ever see.

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Some quiet moments. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

HOLY DIP IN THE GANGA RIVER DURING KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ

Some scenes from Mahakumbh have forever remained etched in my memory. Sample this – A devotee bathes his favourite Shri Krishn Bhagwan while also singing praises for him in the sacred river Ganga. The curious women, also taking a holy dip in Ganga ji, surround him, agape mouthed!

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This devotee knows how to draw all the attention to him! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I shot this (Please see picture) in Prayagraj during the Mahakumbh which happens once in every 12 years. Kumbh Mela is said to be the biggest playground for Hindu rituals from all over the world. Kumbh Mela is also world’s largest congregation of humans at a place.

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A devotee bathes his favourite Hindu God – Shri Krishn. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

When this man entered the water, it was winters and very very cold. It was a solo and budget trip. What ice bucket challenge are they talking about? We have been doing it since thousands of years in India. Without the hashtags!

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A man bathes Shri Krishn while the woman looks on, amused! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I recently travelled again during the Ardhkumbh, 2019, this time with a large group of 40 bloggers, V Loggers etc.  My friend Parnashree asked me, “What has brought 5 crore people (in a day?) here?”. I replied, “Faith”, smiled and looked away! Much water has flown under the bridge since the last Kumbh that I had attended.

Pontoon Bridge Ardhkumbh Mahakumbh Magh Kumbh Mela Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh (1)

Pontoon Bridges. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I used to make fun of all religions back then. I have become more accepting now, though still an atheist!

 

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This picture of mine shot at Mahakumbh 2013 was published in Lonely Planet Magazine India in May 2013. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

EVEN AN ATHEIST CAN FIND GOD IN KUMBH MELA, PRAYARAJ:

This picture and text by me was published in May 2013 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine India. Thank God, even then I wrote Ganga not an anglicized Ganges! Sharing the full version of the text which I had submitted:

“After spending a long tiring day shooting at Maha Kumbh 2013, my eyes still wide eyed with all that I saw since morning, I settled down to rest at a lonely corner on the hay stacks near the holy Ganga river. The night at Kumbh looked even better. Relaxed and energised by the crisp February breeze of Allahabad (Prayagraj), my eyes settled on this woman praying by river Ganga .

She performed the pooja at a silent corner, away from the mayhem and chaos of main ‘mela’ premises. Being an atheist, I was wondering since morning what is the motivation which brings a sea of humanity to this humble city at Kumbh year after year. I stopped questioning religion and faith when I saw this lady being truthful to her faith with complete devotion and surrender. There was something magical about this moment. Something ‘je nais se quoi’. If you want to understand India and its 5,000 year old history and culture, Kumbh is the place to be!”

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My picture and brief writing published in Lonely Planet Magazine India in May 2013 edition. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj

For thousands of years, Hindus have revered the life giving Ganga river. It’s amazing that the tradition is alive till date. It’s not uncommon to hear people referring the river as Gangaji, the suffix ‘ji’ humanizes the majestic river.”

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A Naga Sadhu. Those hair are life goals! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

SCENES FROM KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ WHICH STAY WITH YOU:

Sample another scene:

“ज़िन्दगी एक किराये का घर है,एक न एक दिन बदलना पड़ेगा.
मौत जब तुझको आवाज़ देगी, घर से बाहर निकलना पड़ेगा.”

“Life is like a rented house, one day you have to move out.
When death knocks at your door, you have to vacate the house.”

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Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

The little girls sung this song with detached emotions on their face (they were thinking about Shinchan) in Maha Kumbh mela in Prayagraj; as if unintentionally enacting the detachment conveyed in the song.

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Profound gyan by the kids as Gods stays unfazed! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I froze in the moment, observing their song, dance and expressions and wondered if the kids even understood the deep meaning of the song. There was something very attractive in what I saw.

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Kids having a whale of a time. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

The other kids had the easier job of pretending as God and goddess (They were thinking of Poori Sabzi!) while the adults played musical instruments and collected money from the audience. (Also embarrassingly announced ‘who gave how much’ on mike!)

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Local Kids. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

I assumed it was a Hindu folk song. Once I was back home, I was surprised to discover on You Tube that it’s in fact Islamic qawwali. Told you, India never fails to amuse and surprise me. There is always unity in diversity in India! I wish I had done a video recording of this scene. For those who want to listen to the song, here’s the You Tube link

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The holy dip cleanses you of all sins. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

LISTEN TO A BHAJAN IN KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ

I continued moving around the Kumbh Mela Grounds. It was dark when I was indulging in akhada hopping. I had started early morning. I saw one young Hindu devotee learning his lessons as a mandli (group) of bhajan singers sang a melodious bhakti song with interesting musical instruments in the next pandal (tent).

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A sadhu in Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

Yes, Kumbh fair in Prayagraj is the best place to see Hinduism in all its forms. Well, most! I stayed riveted to the ground beneath my feet as I absorbed the moment. The moment has stayed with me till date!

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Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ – A SANGAM OF EXTREME COLD, FAITH & DETERMINATION:

Bathed in the blinding floodlights of the Kumbh Mela Grounds, a holy man offers his prayers to river Ganga, considered sacred for Hindus.

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Holy Dip in river Ganga. A dip in Sangam is considered the most sacred. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

It was early morning and really cold, yet the river was full of scantily clad devotees absorbed in their private conversation with their mother. In India, river Ganga is often referred to as mother – Ganga Maa/Maa Gangey/Ganga Maiyya). The cold didn’t deter the devotees.

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Devotees take a holy dip in Ganga Maiyya despite the cold. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

Kumbh Mela is said to be the biggest playground for Hindus from all over the world and also world’s largest congregation of humans at a place. You don’t need to promote it. Devotees and Sadhus have been visiting Kumbh Mela since thousands of years in huge numbers. We never cared for Guinness Book Of World Record.

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Of peace amidst chaos. I love the contrast in this picture! Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

In Hinduism everything is revered. Be it stone, animals, snakes, trees or even rivers. In Prayagraj, people throng to pay homage to Ganga river, locally called as ‘Maa Ganga’ (Mother Ganga)

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Everyone is a God and Goddess in the Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India! Those expressions though!

You see those people taking the Holy bath in the pictures? It was winters, around 6:30 a.m. and very cold. But that DIDN’T DETER THE DETERMINATION OF PEOPLE. Devotess as old as 90 visit Kumbh Mela.

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A sadhu showing off his flexibility. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

QUIRKY, FUNNY AND A LOT OF MASTI AT KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ

Kumbh Mela is not always about deep spiritual experiences. It is also about having a little fun and sense of humour.

बुढ़ऊ, मानो जो कहना हमार, नहाए तिरवेदी चला…….

(Old Man. Listen to me. Let’s go for a dip in Triveni)

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Man dresses as woman and jumps around the stage as the God and Goddess stays calm. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

The sound of this song escaped a colossal tent. Curious, I entered and saw a man dressed as woman in saari jumping on the stage (her braid swaying) with an old man. The Ram Sita Jodi (local dressed as Ram ji an Sita ji) stayed calm despite all the mayhem on the stage.

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Don’t ask me what that doll represents? Some quirky moments at Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

Both were mischievous and had mastered playful expressions. It was fun to watch this light hearted song and dance in Kumbh Mela while everyone else was busy in serious chants and mantras.

Naga Sadhu Ardhkumbh Mahakumbh Magh Kumbh Mela Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh (6)

A Naga Sadhu with matted hair and Rudraksh overload. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

THIS I ALL I REMEMBER FROM KUMBH MELA 1995 – PRAYAGRAJ

When Lonely Plant Magazine India and Uttar Pradesh Tourism Board invited me to visit the Ardh Kumbh of 2019, childhood memories flashed before my eyes. I had stayed in Prayagraj from 1994 to 1998 near Mama Bhanja Ka Talaab in Naini and Allahpur. I have been visiting Kumbh Mela since my first experience of Kumbh in 1995. I have faint memories of my first Kumbh experience.

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A Naga Sadhu. Look at those dreadlocks. Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

Byomkesh Bakshi & Kumbh Mela – What’s the connection?

The only thing I remembered was that I was cranky, irritable because they were going to disclose the name of the killer in the very popular detective show Byomkesh Bakshi. I had been irritating and nagging my parents in Kumbh Mela.

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Devotees at Kumbh Mela, Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, Incredible India!

My parents could have just abandoned me in the crowds because it is so easy for a kid to get lost in Kumbh Mela. No body would have known! But, they tolerated my tantrums patiently!

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Kids dress up as Gods and Goddesses. Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

We reached home just in the nick of the time. I was crestfallen as I discovered there was no power at home. Those were the days of long power cuts and no You Tubes or repeat telecasts. I have still not figured out who that killer was. It doesn’t matter now! I have not seen TV since 2007.

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It’s a lonely planet! Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

And I have found meaning in Kumbh. I have grown up as a kid since 1995, not only physically, but also spiritually! Throw in some traumatic struggles with religion in between though!     

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Early morning scenes at Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

COMING BACK TO KUMBH MELA 2019  – PRAYAGRAJ

First things first, during the Kumbh of 2019, I had returned to Prayagraj after a very long time. 6 years to be precise! (No prizes for guessing this!) I had anticipated huge crowds, filth, smoke, pollution, noise, plastic, open defecation etc. I did meet huge crowds but the other paraphernalia were clearly missing.

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Ganga Aarti – Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

The honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mr. Yogi Adityanath and honorable Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi have changed the face of Uttar Pradesh. I can vouch for it as I grew up in various cities of North India. Being a resident, I have seen how Lucknow received a makeover after Yogi ji took office.

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Sadhus – the holy men. Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

But I was shocked to see the miraculous cleanliness and orderliness at Kashi and Prayagraj. On Mauni Amavasya, more than 5 crore (which is double the entire population of Australia) devotees congregated at the Kumbh premises to take a holy dip in the much revered Ganga maiyya. Despite the huge crowds, the devotees were well behaved, walked in lines and followed rules.

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A holy man. Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

SWACHCH BHARAT AT ITS BEST- KUMBH MELA, PRAYAGRAJ 2019

An old man from rural India was about to pee on the open ground in Kumbh Mela. He had taken ‘his position’. Then he looked right and entered one of the mobile toilets which were omnipresent this year. This was the defining moment of Swachch Bharat campaign for me, an unprecedented initiative by honorable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi.

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Some quite moments are possible in Kumbh despite the huge crowds. Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

Some of the other achievements of Kumbh 2019 were 1 lakh super clean mobile toilets across the Kumbh premises (Even outside it), a dustbin and toilet 5 minutes walk from anywhere in Kumbh Mela, areas divided in the tent city in sectors (The lost and found section this year was not very busy), Makeshift ATMs across the Kumbh Mela Grounds, rooms for devotees to change clothes, free bus and rickshaw rides to reach Kumbh Mela and get out of it.

Akbar Fort Sangam Ardhkumbh Mahakumbh Magh Kumbh Mela Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh (26)

My boatman. I did a boat ride from Akbar Fort (in background) and Sangam. Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

Even the ‘pooja samagri’ offered by the devotees were not allowed to flow into the holy river beyond the barricades in water. It was a miracle. I have been visiting Kumbh since more than 20 years now. Never before, had I seen such amazing logistics.

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Pause for a moment when you are in the Kumbh Mela and enjoy the Hindu bhajans.  Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

Growing up, I have had to face the jokes on my state Uttar Pradesh. Though, I think that has changed forever. The new Government has restored the pride of people of Uttar Pradesh, one of the most important regions (Political, religious and spirituality wise) in India. And I can see only upward mobility from here!

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“Tu sher ki bachchi hai” (You are the daughter of a lion”), said the Naga Sadhu when she did a good job with the chillam. Only at Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

GETTING LOST AND FOUND IS A THING IN KUMBH MELA – ONLY IN PRAYAGRAJ!

They say a visit to the Kumbh Mela is not complete unless you are lost and found here. Me and my travel blogger friend Parnashree Devi got lost twice when we got separated from our group of 40 plus bloggers. After a tumultuous 30 minutes we did manage to find them again (Remember, sectors?) amidst the massive crowds. It was fun to get lost and instead of sweating we enjoyed being lost in Kumbh Mela. Our happiness (on being lost, eh!) was visible in the videos of the same which we shared on our social media platforms.

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Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

BEING BLESSED BY A NAGA SADHU WAS ONE OF THE BEST MOMENT AT KUMBH MELA:

As we were moving around near Juna Akhada, anxious and impatient to find our group again, the sight of a mischievous Naga Sadhu stopped us in our tracks.

As I began taking his pictures, he called me and rubbed ash on my head and forehead. It was a blessing. Then he called Parnashree. Hesitant and nervous, she inched closer to the Naga Sadhu. “Topi Utaar” (Remove the hat!), he ordered Parnashree. She obeyed faster than an elephant obeys a mahout. He rubbed ash on her head too and upon learning that she was recently married, he prophesized, “You will become a mother soon!”

Check out my tweet on him. Picture by Parnashree Devi

WE RAN AWAY, feeling good about the situation and our personal moments with the very cool Naga Sadhus. I am not sure about when the baby is happening though we were blessed enough to be reunited with our group a few minutes after this exciting rendezvous. Kumbh Mela is all about happy endings!

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Moments from Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

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Me outside my luxury tent near Kumbh Mela grounds. Pic by Ami Bhat

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Early morning scenes at Kumbh Mela , Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh

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10 thoughts on “HINDU FESTIVALS – WHAT HOLY DIP IN MAHAKUMBH AND ARDHKUMBH IN PRAYAGRAJ MEANS!

  1. Such amazing pictures! That picture of Pontoon Bridges is just amazing. Just goes to show there is so much of this world that I have yet to see and more I will never be able to see in my lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post and studying your beautiful photos! I’ll admit that I didn’t know about this festival before your post, and I am very fascinated by all the details you gave! I am a history and geography teacher, and I love learning about other cultures for both my benefit and my students. Thank you for sharing this piece of Hindu culture with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your photos are incredible. Congratulations on being featured in Lonely Planet. No ice bucket challenge here as you said, it has been going on for years. The water must be freezing at this time of the year. It must have been interesting returning to the festival again after visiting in 2013. Thanks for sharing the history behind the festival.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had never heard of this festival so it was great to read about it. It so cool that you got to experience it. I loved these beautiful and colourful photos. I feel like I learned a lot just by reading this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kumbh is an experience. I was quite apprehensive before visiting Kumbh this year. As you had said, I too am an atheist and do not quite believe in all the rituals of religion (be it any religion!) But I visited Kumbh with an open mind and heart and was really overwhelmed. Faith is really a strong emotion!
    Yes, we too got lost in the crowd, but thankfully found each other in 12 minutes, and not 12 years. Enjoyed reading about your Kumbh experience.

    Like

  6. Brilliant captures and congrats on getting one in print. I heard, and what you also emphasise on, that the arrangements this year were phenomenal, especially the cleanliness. I especially loved your insights into the festival and of course the reasons behind it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Some really intriguing and stunning portraits. I detest crowds so I don’t think I’ll ever visit Maha Kumbh but thanks a lot for sharing your amazing experience. It looks like once in a lifetime experience. I loved how you used Hindi quotes in your article. Loved the line बुढ़ऊ, मानो जो कहना हमार, नहाए तिरवेदी चला.

    Liked by 1 person

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