If crowds worry you, stay away. This one’s big. Very big. Held four times every 12 years at four different locations across central and northern India, the Kumbh Mela is the largest religious congregation on the planet. This vast celebration attracts tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims, including mendicant nagas (naked sadhus, or holy men) from various Hindu monastic orders. The Kumbh Mela doesn’t belong to any particular caste or creed – devotees from all branches of Hinduism come together to experience the electrifying sensation of mass belief and to take a ceremonial dip in the sacred Ganges, Shipra or Godavari River.
The origins of the festival go back to the battle for supremacy between good and evil. In the Hindu creation myths, the gods and demons fought a great battle for a kumbh (pitcher) containing the nectar of immortality. Vishnu got hold of the container and spirited it away, but in flight four drops fell on the earth – at Prayagraj (Allahabad), Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. Celebrations at each of these cities last for around six weeks, but are centred on just a handful of auspicious bathing dates, normally six. The Prayagraj (Allahabad) event, known as the Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela, is even larger with even bigger crowds. Each location also holds an Ardh (Half) Mela every six years and a smaller, annual Magh Mela.
For detailed information (including exact dates and locations) of the Kumbh Mela, see www.kumbh.gov.in/en.