It doesn’t get much bigger than this: the Kumbh Mela festival in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. 120 million people are expected to attend the Hindu religious celebration
between Jan 15 and March 4. Planners at the local government in Allahabad
have been preparing for a massive onslaught of pilgrims that will dominate the town for the 55-day festival run. It’s fair to say that Allahabad won’t be the same even after they leave. The city has been renamed Prayagraj to replace its name of Mughal origin with one of Hindu religious significance – a controversial move that required a go-ahead from the Indian parliament. Despite the controversy, a total of 25 towns changed their name in preparation for Kumbh Mela.
You won’t tell by the size of the event that the 2019 installment is technically only an “Ardh Kumbh”, a “Half Kumbh”. It marks the halfway point between two Kumbh Melas which return to a city only every twelve years. Other “Kumbhs” and “Ardh Kumbhs” are held in the cities of Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand, Trimbak and Nashik in Maharashtra and Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.
The locations of Kumbh Mela celebrations are all close to rivers considered sacred by Hindus. The main event of every Kumbh is ritual bathing in these rivers along with big feasts and religious assemblies. Hindu monks, or Sadhus, are also known to flock to the Kumbh Mela festivals. Many of these monks choose to live in poverty and seclusion – the festivals give them an opportunity to interact with the public.