Quest For The Amrit Kumbh

  • Millions of faithful assemble at the Kumbh Mela, the most sacred of Hindu pilgrimages, to bathe in the waters of a holy river and gain redemption from sinMillions of faithful assemble at the Kumbh Mela, the most sacred of Hindu pilgrimages, to bathe in the waters of a holy river and gain redemption from sin

    Kumbh Mela 2019 is being held in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh. During the two month-long festivities, the city appears transformed by the thousands of colourful tents, temporary halls and makeshift shelters, built to accommodate millions of visitors.

  • Deeply revered and respected, religious gurus and priests arrive riding splendid, golden chariots—a sign of their elevated station in Indian society. They are accompanied by an entourage of followers and security staff, who maintain order amongst the massive, often frenetic crowds.

    Photo credit: Shekhar Soni/India Today

  • According to popular belief, Prayagraj is one of four locations on earth where drops of amrit (the elixir of eternal life) fell while the pitcher (kumbha) it was carried in was being spirited away by the gods to protect it from evil forces trying to acquire it. Made holy by the spilt nectar, the waters of the river are believed to purify and cleanse the souls of all who bathe in it. Traditionally, gurus, who dedicate their lives to their faith, are the first to bathe.

    Photo credit: Pramod Pushkarna/India Today

  • One of the important events of Kumbh Mela involves the arrival, en-masse, of the members of an akhara, a group or sect of Hindu ascetics. The most striking of these are the ash covered Naga sadhus who perform some of the most severe austerities and sacrifice all material things, including clothes, on their path to spiritual absolution.

    Photo credit: Raghu Rai/India Today

  • Before they can participate in the bathing ritual, devotees must reach the Triveni Sangam—the confluence of three holy rivers—Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. To do so, they must make their way across floating bridges specially constructed for the event. Hundreds of labourers work months in advance to build and make ready more than 1,700 hollow metal cylinders known as pontoons to hold 22 bridges aloft the river. Each buoyant bridge is strong enough to bear the daily weight of millions of people, vehicles and animals crossing over it.

    Photo credit: Alamy

  • For the first time in this centuries-old festival, the 2019 Kumbh Mela welcomed the Kinnar Akhara, a religious congregation comprising transgender Hindu ascetics. The group entered the event amidst massive celebrations, joyful laughter and loud cheering from the surrounding crowd. Led by the famed trans-rights activist Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, members of this akhara took a dip in the Sangam on the opening day of the festival, becoming the first transgender group ever to do so.

    Photo credit: Alamy

  • The Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj is held on dates during which (according to astrological belief) the Ganga is imbued with the power of spiritual immortality. Pilgrims reach this hallowed ground to perform the age-old practice of a shahi snan or royal bath in the sacred waters, which, they believe, leaves them blessed by the divine and closer to the ultimate goal of Hindu belief—moksha, or liberation from the cycle of life and death.

    Photo credit: Raghu Rai/India Today

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