Kumbh Mela is huge. Its scale & enormity leaves you in awe and the ease with which everything moves establishes your faith in the natural order of things. Many people asked me what things to do at Kumbh Mela. I usually say, do not plan, just land up there and go with the flow. However, if you need to have a glimpse of what all you can do, here are a few things that you can do.
12 Things to do at Kumbh Mela
Most of these things can be done at almost all Kumbh Melas at Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. Wherever they are specific, I will mention that.
1. Take a Dip in the Holy Waters
Kumbh Mela always takes places next to holy waters. At Prayagraj it is the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna & Saraswati rivers called Triveni Sangam. At Hardwar it is Ganga as it enters the plains, in Ujjain it is Kshipra River and in Nasik, it is banks of Godavari River. The most important thing that people travel to Kumbh for is to take a dip in the holy waters.
The whole duration of the Mela is auspicious to take the dip in these holy waters. However, there are specific days within these days that are super-auspicious. They are called Shahi Snan days. You can check the exact dates. Be prepared that these dates are highly crowded and Sadhus have the first right to take a dip in the waters on these days.
At Prayagraj, you can take a boat ride to the Sangam.
2. Visit an Akhada
There are about 13 official Akhadas who participate in the Kumbh Mela. However, they have numerous branches, especially the biggest one – Juna Akhada. In addition to these 13 Akhadas, there are various other communities of Sadhus, spiritual organizations and groups of renunciates participate. If you are associated with an organization or follow a Guru in one of these groups, you would naturally visit them.
If like me, you really do not follow anyone yet, do visit some of the Akhada and speak to the Sadhus or maybe just listen to them. I would suggest going beyond the Akhadas and Sadhus that you meet in the main streets. Look for smaller ashrams and simpler sadhus. I had blissful conversations with many of them. Came back humble and with some nuggets for life.
All Ashrams and Akhadas have the temple of their Isth Dev or the primary deity they follow. Do visit the temple. In addition, there would be an installation of Kumbh or an overflowing pot that is also worshipped during the period.
Most Akhadas also had a Yagyashala with a Kumbh installed in it. I assume regular havans are performed here, though I did not attend one myself.
3. Meet the Naga Sadhus
Naga Sadhus have become the exotic symbol of Kumbh Mela. They are a small part of the big congregation. While at first, their appearance may make them look distant, but most of them are actually looking forward to interacting with you.
While there are obvious questions for them as they are very different from most people, try to understand what they are trying to achieve. What is their Sadhna? What motivates them to give up everything?
Kumbh Mela Video: Message from a Naga Sadhu
Naga Sadhu interactions told me that they may be living outside the formal society, but they are always thinking about society. Their thoughts show their care and concern for society. For example in the video above this Naga Sadhu wanted to tell the youth to stay away from drugs.
Read more: Prayagraj – Allahabad City Heritage Walk
4. Listen to Kathas, Participate in Kirtans
Kumbh Mela can also be seen as a Mela of storytellers. Sadhus, Gurus, Acharyas take sessions where they tell stories from the Indian scriptures. Some of them tell it in their practiced storytelling mode while others do it with singing and music. Wherever you are in the Mela, you are never away from an ongoing storytelling session.
Just sit back and listen to the stories that come loaded with age-old wisdom and life lessons. If you have lived in India, you may be familiar with many stories from the scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata or Bhagwat Puran. The beauty of this storytelling is that the more you know the story the more you enjoy listening to newer perspectives of the same story.
You can also join the singing of various bhajan and Nam Jaaps in many Akhadas. Just follow the music that you like, join those who are singing and enjoy yourself. There is no permission of any kind that you need to join in singing, just a desire to sing along or maybe just listen.
5. Eat at a Bhandara
Bhandara is the free food organized by various Akhadas or sponsors. This is available for anyone visiting. You can simply extend your hand and take the food. Most pilgrims will treat as Prasad or the holy food that has been offered to God.
If you can afford to pay for the food, please pay to the Akhada so that they can keep feeding the pilgrims. You can pay as much as you want. Beauty is that no one asks you to pay, but someone pays for that food. The cycle runs beautifully with anonymous donations that keep feeding all kinds of visitors with absolute equality.
Eat Street Food
Streets were full of street food. In fact, I had chaat made of instant roasted grains. You could have Samosas, Jalebis, Kachoris, Pakodas among other things on the street. The best part was that most of the food was made instantly right in front of you. Even when I ordered Samosas, they would fry as many Samosas as you order.
Chai is, of course, everyone and in the cold environment, there is nothing like a hot cup of tea.
6. Visit the ancient temples of the city
All the 4 cities that host Kumbh Mela are ancient temple towns of Bharat. They have many ancient temples in these cities. I would probably write separately about the ancient temples of Prayagraj, but here are a few temples that you should not miss:
Prayagraj – Lete Hanuman Ji, Akshay Vat & Patalpuri Temple, Gangoli Shivala, Nag Vasuki Temple
Haridwar – Daksheshwar Mahadev Temple & Shakti Temples of Haridwar
Ujjain – Mahakal Temple and Harsiddhi Devi Temple
Nasik – Tryambkeshwar, Panchvati
7. Do the Yatras or Walking Trails
At Prayagraj and Ujjain, you can do the popular Panch Kroshi Yatra that goes around the sacred geography of these cities covering many ancient temples.
Read More – Panchkroshi Yatra around Kashi Khand
Yatras are typically done on foot. However, you can also do them on a vehicle. Cycling would be ideal but don’t think they are useful during the Mela.
There is so much of culture on display that walking is the best way to explore. From street art to folk art to classical art forms, everything is there for you to soak in. In fact, I found it all over at Prayagraj – on flyovers, at traffic roundabouts, and on city walls.
8. Meet the Kalpavasis / fellow pilgrims
The origin of the word Mela is in Mel that essentially means meeting. One way to look at it is an opportunity to meet a lot of people, people from all walks of life, people with whom your paths may not cross otherwise. Go out and meet as many people as you can, let your world meet the world of other people.
I had insightful conversations with fellow travelers, people I met while eating, Sadhus, those serving Sadhus, Mahants, boatmen, priests, young children, and performing artists. Each conversation opened a window and expanded my horizon. I was touched by the simplicity and warmth of the fellow ordinary Indians.
9. Say Thank You
While you walk around, look at the temporary mega city that comes up and would go away once it is over. It is a miracle that a city for millions comes up in less than 2 months, is used for less than 2 months and then dismantled. This includes various temporary bridges that are built on the river.
We may have a million reasons to crib about Indian Bureaucrats, but this is where they put their best foot forward. You can not but admire their efficiency, dedication, planning, and execution. Most people work with a ‘Seva Bhav’ or emotion to serve, most of the times with folded hands.
The security personnel deployed, the people manning Lost & Found Centers, the sanitation managers, they all deserve a big thank you. You may not see most of them.
Do stop by to say thank you to policemen and other officials working day and night to make the Mela safe and enjoyable for all of us.
10. Soak in the cultural events
At Prayagraj, the UP Culture department had organized many cultural events. They even set up a Sanskriti gram that showcased the cultural history of India. There were exhibitions and performances of renowned artists from around the world. I enjoyed Pandvani of folk artists from Chhattisgarh, Ghatam by Sri Vikku Vinayakram among many performances.
There were performances on the street like balancing on a rope, there were performances in Akhadas like Kinnar Akhada and there were Kavi Sammelan or poetry sessions in huge tents.
So, it is your time to soak in the culture.
11. Buy Kumbh Souvenirs
Once upon a time, it used to be as much a trade fair where traders from around the country used to come and showcase their products. I did see a lovely exhibition of products from all districts of Uttar Pradesh. It was a good opportunity to pick some Saris from Banaras, or Dholaks from Amroha or pottery from Khurja.
Some popular souvenirs include
- Rudraksha Malas, Tulsi Mala or Kamal Mala
- Ashtadhatu Rings
- Copper Item including rings, bangles
- Brass Items including Kartals, Pooja items
Herbs and Ayurvedic Medicines can be found in abundance for those interested.
Buy Books & Calendars
Believe me, you will find bookstores almost everywhere. At Prayagraj, there was a hall called Pustak Kumbh where major Hindi publishers were showcasing their books. Gita Press has multiple stalls across the Mela. There were many small-time vendors selling Panchang or the Indian Calendar for different prominent cities of India. Gita Press books can be seen at almost every book vendor’s stall.
Many people buy books to read during their stay. They also take them back as Prasad.
12. Attend the Arti
At Prayagraj, my first few minutes were spent attending the evening Arti the Triveni Sangam. I know the Ganga Arti happens every day at Har ki Pauri in Haridwar. I assume there would be some kind of Arti that would happen at Nasik & Ujjain too.
Read More – Ganga Arti at Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi
Do attend this Arti as these holy waters are the reason for the Kumbh to happen. Praying together to them brings you together as fellow humans who come from the same source and eventually merge back in it.
Although I have listed the things to do, there is really no list that can cover it all. There are surprises waiting for you at every corner if you are open to them. Serendipity is all in the air, tune in and you never know what you will end up discovering.
Triveni Sangam Arti, Prayagraj
Glimpses of Kumbh Mela 2019 Prayagraj
Watch the video to get glimpses of the event at Prayagraj so that you have an idea what to expect if you wish to visit.