Words to describe something of a great magnitude, like “epic proportions” or “massive” fall short when one begins to describe the largest confluence of people in human history, ever.
100 million diverse people, at one place, gathered to unite their voices in praise of an ancient religion that they might not even necessarily follow is what is being witnessed in Allahabad, right now. The Mahakumbh mela is an age old Hindu festival where people bathe in the holy Ganga which is said to wash away sins and grant forgiveness for the same. It is a centre of attraction for religious leaders of diverse faiths from all over the world.
Pre event activities for the Mahakumbh mela started last year where the final event plan was laid out. People on the Mela staff were specially trained by the UP Tourism government in collaboration with the Manyawar Kanshiram institute of Tourism management in hygiene, crowd control and first aid. The management also invited several famous religious leaders to give speeches and indulge in religious discussions with the masses.
Allahabad, that witnessed 100 million people right from the first day made special provisions for accommodating these several people in the form of a ‘makeshift/temporary city’ where tents with furnishings cropped up in every available open space. Special provisions for electricity by establishing temporary electricity grids and water supply were also made available to the visitors. Transport services entered into collaborations with accommodation supplying units to make the arrangements easier. Many residents of Allahabad have also took to providing accommodation to the pilgrims on rental basis at home.
“The essence of the Kumbh mela is to create spiritual awareness in those minds and souls that haven’t looked beyond their four walls of life’s humdrums”, says a preacher on Twitter. The activities are thus, carefully designed keeping in mind the chaos of normal life and the lack of contemplation therefore. The day usually starts with the long procession throughout the city where more and more people keep joining in as it goes along to the Ganga for the snaan or the Holy bath. There are also special days when the Holiest baths, like Mauni Amavasya Snan, Basant panchami snan , Rath samapti snan and Bhishma ekadasi snan can be taken which are particularly more wish fulfilling and cleansing according to mythology. After the bath, one can indulge in a lot of activities like helping with the evening puja, astrology reading, engage in religious discussions, and attend the programs put up by students and locals of Allahabad. Others may also opt to attend specially organised camps like Raghu Rai’s photography sessions.
The event-filled day then trickles down to the cool evenings where aarti or worship sessions are held on the banks of the Ganga. Recently weds, pregnant women and new born babies also get an opportunity to seek the blessings of renowned priest or religious leader after the prayers after which, people segregate into their groups again to either have further discussions or retire for the day.
Amidst the cacophony and confluence of people and faiths, the staff works exceptionally hard to keep people safe, together and non-violent. Strict rules against drinking, smoking, eating meat or using plastic bags have been put into place to ensure smooth procession of the event and any visitor failing to abide by the same is banned from participating in the festivities any further.
Spectacular sights include sadhus from the mountains that bring along snakes as pets, traditional dancers that break into a dance for the crowd to appreciate, foreigners imbibing Hindu culture and documentary makers along with their press fraternity scurrying for newsworthy material.
“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvellous to our kind of people, the cold whites” – Mark Twain after visiting the Kumbh Mela in 1895.