where to next ?
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where to next ?

Attending the worlds largest spiritual gathering: The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela

The crowd is a story, the event is a story, but you really only need one person for a story. Just think, how many stories do we walk past each day?’

We slowly shuffle across a wooden pontoon bridge, securely balanced on plastic drums floating in the river. An uncountable throng of people walk in relaxed unison ahead, while behind us the gates are closed to manage the crowds. We’re fully aware we have taken a wrong turn, yet, with no sense of direction left, we silently admit defeat to ourselves, if not openly to each other.

Buried deep amongst an ever-growing collection of some thirty million pilgrims, the colours and calls around me were enchanting. Stylish saris swayed in the air, drying from a dip in the sacred waters, while the suns glare was as bright as the orange robes adorning many of the devotees. Brothers and sisters were chanting alongside their mothers and fathers, and all the hues and happenings had started to blur into one. The Praygraj Kumbh Mela was in full swing, and with nearly a month of the event left it was unapologetically unrelenting.

We reach the other side of the rivers, plural, as it is here that two bodies of water join. The distinct colours of The Ganga and Yamuna unite at this point, also meeting the mythical Saraswati river, unseen by the eye, but known by those of faith. This point is the Sangam, and we had inadvertently arrived at the right place, had it only been a day later.

Across the bridge, all bodily senses resume at full. My ears were being pulled in multiple directions, while my eyes wanted to follow a different path. My feet, however, were arguing, already weak in the hazy mid-day sun.

I thought I had felt sensory overload before, but the worlds largest faith-based gathering was now garnering pole position for that award. For the first time in a long time, I was at a loss. Not just physically lost, but unsure how to experience an event so different from anything I had ventured to before.

For this isn’t an event that you attend to tick off activities, it’s an event you come to experience, to find your own story and spirituality, and hopefully, you’ll accomplish that better than I did.

Allahabad, the ordinarily small and unassuming city of this grand event, was once the capital of Uttar Pradesh. The capital title was lost to Lucknow, and last year, in late 2018, it also lost its name. While the Kumbh Mela has been taking place at this sacred meeting point of the three rivers for longer than is known, this is the first year it has done so under its new city title: Prayagaj Kumbh Mela.

Names of place are used intermittently here, Kashi and Banaras are often still said when talking about the nearby holy city that is Varanasi, while Allahabad is still commonly referenced when discussing Prayagraj. Nothing is forever, not even a name it seems, and the Kumbh Mela is the perfect reminder of this, especially for those who come to take the holy dip, where a bathe at this point is said to wash away all sins.

Inspiration, Information and transformation are how I had heard the Kumbh Mela described, and as we wandered through the makeshift tents and camps varying from glamorous Yoga retreats with lavish en-suite rooms, to simple blankets where Naga Sadhus rested, I felt an intense amount of inspiration to travel again.

That afternoon I witnessed hundreds of people lining up at feeding tables, where subsidised or free meals were dished out to pilgrims, a backbone of the events inclusiveness. In the background, yet deserving of celebration, countless people ensured the make-shift event space remained spotless. Whether they were fishing out offerings from the river or dusting up debris on the grounds, it’s no small feat to pull off such a large scale event and retain control and cleanliness.

I couldn’t fit my experience in blog so I’ll be posting another one about the rest of my experience.