Kumbh Mela is literally like that overflowing pot it means. It is difficult to describe what is inside it. The more you observe, experience, and indulge in it, the more you see and the more keeps coming. There are so many lenses through which you can look at, I wonder if there can be an exhaustive list. My observations of attending Kumbh Mela 2019, may be useful to other visitors now and in the future.
There is a known history of Mela though no one knows when it began. We can only say the oldest record date was this, which would take it back to at least 3000 years ago.
What is Kumbh Mela?
It is a festival that is held every 12 years at 4 places in India – Haridwar, Prayagraj, Ujjain & Nasik. Haridwar and Prayagraj also have Ardh Kumbh Mela mid-way between two Kumbh Melas. So, a total of 6 of them take place within a span of 12 years.
At Prayagraj, the event happens at the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati rivers called Triveni Sangam, in fact, on the floodplains created by them. At Haridwar, it happens on the banks of Ganga at Har ki Pauri, in Ujjain on the banks of Shipra river, and in Nasik on the ghats of Godavari river.
Snan or taking a dip in the holy waters of these rivers is an essential part of attending.
For more info read – Kumbha – The Traditionally Modern Mela
Kumbh Mela 2019 Dates
At Prayagraj it starts on Makar Sankranti which happens on Jan 14th and ends on Mahashivratri. So the 2019 congregation takes place between Jan 14th, 2019 – Mar 04, 2019.
Kumbh Mela 2019 Schedule
Important dates are the Shahi Snan days when the Sadhus take a royal dip in the waters of Triveni Sangam. For 2019, these dates are:
Makar Sankranti – Jan 13th
Paush Purnima – 21st Jan
Mauni Amavasya – 4th Feb
Basant Panchami – 10th Feb
Magh Purnima – 19th Feb
Maha Shivratri – 4th Mar
If you plan to travel during Shahi Snan days, remember these are the most crowded days. I planned my trip between two Shahi Snans.
There are legends like Sagar Manthan or the churning of the ocean associated with it. Almost everyone associated with the native religions of India has visited a Mela. Having said that, even though religious beliefs and spirituality are at the core, it is also a festival that connects people who come here. It is a celebration of humanity as a whole, of people who share a common faith and history and people who want to grow together.
No one invites anyone to Kumbh Mela. People and Sadhus know the dates of all 4 congregations as per the Indian calendar. They just show up there. Even during times when there were epidemics, restrictions, wars, and the emergency, the numbers may have gone down, but Mela happened uninterrupted.
So, don’t wait for an invite, just land up there.
There are no checks or screenings of any kind based on anything. Anyone can visit and participate. The only exception would be if you try to create trouble of any kind.
Not a Managed Tourist Event
It is not a managed event of any kind. Government agencies, do take care of all kinds of arrangements but they are not really the hosts. It is a public event, by the public and for the public.
It is absolutely free. There is no ticket of any kind for anything once you reach there.
You can even feed yourself for free, you can live there for free if you want.
Video of Kumbh Mela 2019
Watch glimpses of the 2019 congregation at Prayagraj in this video.
Festival of Sadhus and Saints
Essentially is a congregation of Sadhus of the Hindu Faith. All the Sadhus, belonging to 13 Akhadas, and many sampradayas or communities come to the Mela. They set up their temporary homes here and live with fellow Sadhus and devotees.
Sadhus meet each other, debate, and discuss issues of relevance which may include political issues. They induct new Sadhus into their ashrams while others may get promotions. They engage openly with the people through their lectures, Kathas, Kirtans, or even cultural programs. I attended a Kavi Sammelan or a poetry session where Baba Ramdev and Swami Shraddhanand participated with the audience and as the audience.
Read More – Naimisharanya – The Tapobhumi of 88,000 Rishis
Some of these saints are not easy to meet or even find. Here they are easily available and accessible. I met the Mahamandleshwar of Maha Nirvani Akhada, the oldest Akhada and I can tell the 30 minutes I spent with him, and listening to him are precious.
Meet them but remember to be respectful even if you do not agree with them. If you go like an empty vessel, you will come back, filled with the wisdom they share.
Be the Minimalist
It is a lesson in minimalism. There are Naga Sadhus who wear nothing and are the epitome of minimalism. On the other hand, there are pilgrims who carry everything they have on their heads and keep walking around the Mela grounds. Most people live in a tent accommodation that is provided on the floodplains of Ganga and Yamuna River at Prayagraj.
Kalpavasis, who live here for 30-40 days live on a single meal a day. They spend their day in spiritual pursuits. Most people walk around although the facility of e-rickshaws is there.
It is your opportunity to experiment with how minimal can you go with your living.
Walk & Wander at Kumbh Mela
If you want to truly experience the Mela, you need to walk around or in fact wander around. You never know what you would end up seeing. Like I was amazed to see this young girl balancing herself on the tight rope that I had seen only in films till now. However, what was more amazing was at the end of the act, people did not just give her money, but they also touched her feet.
Read More – Ganga Aarti
Walk along the river, walk on the streets of the Kumbh Nagari, walk through the Akhadas, walk across the river, walk in the city, walk inside the fort, and walk to the temples.
Do Not Expect a Timetable
Kumbh Mela is a strange place, where everything moves, but it moves when it wants to move. There is no timetable as such. No wonder, most cultural program banners forgot to mention the time. Even when it is mentioned, the time can vary. Since there is no ticketed event, there is no binding on anyone to follow the time. People are driven more by the joy of doing things than by adhering to a strict timeline.
It can be unsettling for the urban traveler on the first day. By the second day, you get used to it. In fact, you start enjoying it with its rhythm that is as predictable as it gets. I had a list of things to see on Day 1. By the second day, I just followed my instinct.
Crowd & Chaos at Kumbha Mela 2019
It is, of course, the most crowded place you can go to. The numbers are mind-boggling, you have to be there to believe them. Crowds that follow no fixed plan are bound to be chaotic. But does that create a problem? A big NO.
No one is in a hurry. On day 1, I was walking around as if I am going to miss something if I do not move fast. On day 2, I knew that no matter how much I am going to run, I would only see a fraction of it. The pace set in, I was moving along with the crowds, randomly. I stopped wherever something or someone caught my fancy. I ate from the pushcarts, from bhandaras, from small shops, and with fellow pilgrims. The conversations would typically give us a peep into each other’s worlds.
Trust comes easily at Kumbh Mela.
From the chaos emerged magic when a procession of Sadhus passed or when ISKCON troupes sang and danced on the streets or a procession of floats goes by.
Where to Stay?
Traditionally, if you are visiting, you are supposed to stay on the banks of the river, the venue of the Mela. Kumbh Nagari is also set up on the floodplains created by the rivers. It is not uncommon to stay with local families or hotels close to the Mela. With the growing size of the Mela, many facilities have been built for visitors.
For the urban traveler, there is a luxury tent city, where one need not worry about anything. For the mid-range traveler, there are city hotels. Although they may be costlier than usual during the Mela times.
For pilgrims, there are all kinds of facilities at Kumbh Nagari. I saw a huge hall with 300 or so beds, where you get a bed and bedding at Rs 100/- per bed per night. There are even free Rain Baseras for those who cannot afford to pay. Akhadas and Ashrams are open to hosting people. Kalpavasis stay in the tents provided by the administration.
Food at Kumbh Mela 2019
There is so much food available that you may be spoilt for choice. An unwritten rule is that all food served is vegetarian.
You can eat for free at Bhandaras run by various ashrams. Although if you can afford it, you must pay by donating to the ashram or by contributing to feeding the poor.
There are small shops that sell snacks and basic food. There are pushcart sellers selling desi snacks like roasted grains, bhelpuri, chaats, etc. Tea is literally available anytime anywhere. Even if you sit down to chat with a Sadhu, within minutes, piping hot tea would be offered to you.
At the VIP ghats like Arial Ghat, you have cafes and restaurant-like facilities.
Meeting of the Worlds – Kumbh Mela 2019
It is a place where the renunciates come and live with the world and the worldly people come to live like ascetics for a brief time. It is a place where the two worlds meet, a unique Sangam of humanity.
Roam around and meet people unlike you, people whose world is very different from yours. The exchange at a place where 3 rivers meet will enrich you just like the rivers enrich the lands on their banks.
Once you are there, feeling blessed is normal.
Kumbh Mela sounds intriguing. The colors in your pictures (the colors of the country!) are just so bold and beautiful. They are wonderful to look at. I wish we had more colors like this in the western world!
Steffi – Kumbh Mela is intriguing in so many ways. Yes, India is a colorful country. Just start wearing colors you like and one by one your world will also become as colorful 🙂
Thank you so much for this informative article. It is my dream to attend a Kumbha Mela. So now I have a much better idea of how the festival functions and that my cup will indeed overflow !!! So I have 3 years to get organised to attend the next festival. !!! Once again Thankyou for this glimpse. ????
Sharon, I hope you get to experience the Kumbh Mela as I did this year.
Great article covering all aspects there is for us-the common people to know.
Kumbh Mela, a huge religious gathering is indeed a vast congregation of the multitude who represents india in totality , one may say, the Sadhus, the householders, the poor, the mid-level, the rich, the young, old, healthy, able, maimed, beggars, lepars, educated, uneducated, rural , urbane. To me, it is as if they all – the vast ocean of humanity all walk together in one direction to merge into the divine-the holy spot- the Sangam where – as the mythology say blend the three legendary sacred rivers into one one whole as they flow toward the ocean. None is restricted to come, see and mix with the crowd. No one is bound to follow the rituals customarily followed in this traditionally held sacred river-site. It seems to be a temporary break from the rigours of religious practices of the renunciars as well from the monotony of humdrum life of the common folk- a breathing space from the struggle of earning a living, bringing up children , hard toil and sort of aimless existence. It’s a place in the comfort of winter when the Sun shines but does not burn the people of the hot country of India , where people from all the states in India, from all class , of varied tongues, different upbringing and from different backgrounds, both wise and ignorant, assemble- roam free in the lap of Nature , bathe in the sacred to wash away the sins, hear the discourses on the sacred, meet the holy men and knowingly or unknowingly, believing or not believing, witness the ever-going flow of life – the sacred, hear the sacred, sing the sacred , ruminate upon the sacred, meditate on the sacred and think and ponder on the ultimate reality of life – the finale merge with the eternity. And the eternal flow of life goes on unperturbed.
Very well said, Sumita. Kumbh gives a break to everyone, householders get spiritual and renunciates mingle with the householders.
I was yearning to visit Kumbh this time but couldn’t visit due to personal reasons. Thank you for this post. I feel blessed looking at the pictures and reading your honest review of place.
I felt blessed at Kumbh, and just shared the same with my readers.
A good read and information
Thanks, Vanita. Glad you liked our Kumbh story.
Oh wow! This is exactly what I was trying to find out as I’m planning on going next year! Thank you for writing it. I’ve bookmarked it and will be following your suggestions 🙂
Nat – this happens every 12 years, so next year is not an option 🙂
I’ve always wanted to do this! It looks truly amazing! What a meeting of minds. I was watching stories and it did look quite manic but must be wonderful to experience and learn. Great post and photos.
Thanks for sharing. Sophie x
Sophie – Kumbh is one of its kind experience.
A great guide. I have never been to the Kumbh, but the festival has always intrigued me. Loved your photos and how you thought that it was a brief sangam of humanity 🙂
Priyanka – It is a Sangam of many many things, it is impossible to write comprehensively about Kumbh. Plan for the Kumbh at Haridwar in 2021.
This post is great! It’s really refreshing to read about destinations I hadn’t thought about traveling to before… now I think I WILL! 🙂
Kaisa, it is a once in 12 year event and it is the biggest gathering of humans on earth, an experience like nothing else.
very nice post to know all about Kumbh Mela and other things. I really appreciate you.
Thank you, Suni ji.
Wow Useful Informative
Thanks for Sharing Such a wonderful post