Kumbh Mela – First Encounters
ALLAHABAD – As we reached the outskirts of Allahabad, our vans began pulling over, turning around, asking at each corner for directions to the camp. “How do you lose a temporary city of 30 million” someone asked, when we turned down another narrow street, only to stop and ask directions once again. And then we turned a corner to meet the Ganges, and with it a view of the encampments, tents stretching into the hazy distance, seemingly unending. We had reached the Kumbh.
That evening we walked from our camp site, which sits on a hill above everything, into the thick of the Kumbh Mela grounds. We took time to wander, take photos, and get our bearings for the days to come. We crossed one of the long footbridges spanning the Ganges, watching the current and the reflections of thousands of lights from the encampment on the water. The entrances to the different akharas, or gatherings of sadhus, were brightly fantastic, brightly lit flashing structures, and the flashing colors and sounds of chanting and religious songs from the loudspeakers seemed to reach us through the thick foggy air as though the haziness of a dream.
As a religious pilgrimage, the Kumbh Mela is a place where millions come from across India—and across the world—to seek spiritual release, learning, prayer, communion, and so much more – and our group likewise comes seeking so many different things, answers to our research questions, understanding, insight… It is thrilling to be a part of this great endeavor.