I just love travelling to new places and experiencing new cultures and ways of life. What continually amazes me is that combination of being among people, who are so totally the same as me that they could easily be direct family, while they simultaneously might as well be from some Star Wars planet given the customs, clothing, and whole style of life. So when I was given the chance to attend the Kumbh Mela, the largest Hindu Religious gathering in India and the largest gathering ever of humanity in one place, at one time, on earth, I jumped at the opportunity; especially as it only occurs once every 12 years. By the way, this is not an exaggeration. The crowds, totally peaceful, were visible from the Space Station.
For a period of 5 weeks or so, tens of millions of pilgrims gather in late winter during the dry season on the riverbed of the Ganges in India (at Allahabad) where a tent city is constructed along a 10-15 kilometer stretch. Some come for a day, a week, or even for the whole time. During the 5 weeks, there are certain days that are particularly sacred and during that time the temporary city swells to as much as 30 million people. I was there for a week in 2013, the most recent Kumbh Mela. Most exciting of all, I was there on the day that 30 million people gathered in one place, elbow to elbow, to bathe in the sacred Ganges river in hopes of being freed from the cycle of death, and rebirth, and endless Reincarnation.
The Kumbh Mela is not just a religious festival; it is also the largest religious trade convention in existence. Over 100,000 Indian gurus and their followers ensconce themselves and in fact, make up almost half of the population. The tents are lavish, the billboards extol their particular message and the loudspeakers operate non-stop 24 hours a day broadcasting the Guru`s message (all of their messages, all of the time, simultaneously). It truly is something out of this world and I can't begin to express how exhilarating it was to be a part of it.
After I returned home, I eventually prepared a 2 hour audio-visual presentation which I delivered to various audiences. If you are interested in having a taste of the experience, here is a shorter 40 minute version of the sights and sounds as captured in photographs and some video just for fun (I was only starting to learn how to record video on my camera).
You are not locked into watching the whole thing. You can easily just skip forward and backward as you like and still have a wonderful experience. In fact, it may even be better that way. No matter how you choose to sample it, I hope you enjoy the experience and if you come away feeling even a bit of the excitement that I felt, then it has done its job.