Kumbh Mela
February 7, 2007 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Kumbh Mela. Currently under way in Allahabad, India, the three-yearly Kumbh Mela festival is the largest gathering of people on the planet, as up to 70 million Hindus converge to wash away their sins where droplets of the nectar of immortality are said to have been spilt when the gods & demons struggled over it. Of perennial interest to foreigners are the hordes of sadhus (often naked, ascetic holy men) who attend, not always without incident. Recently, however, an Australian historian has cast doubt on the supposedly ancient nature of the mass gathering, suggesting that it was largely invented as a way of circumventing British control following the unsuccessful Indian Mutiny of 1857. [reg for final link: mefi / mefi]
posted by UbuRoivas (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting post, Uburoivas.
posted by Iron Rat at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2007


i was trying to find some info on the planning, logistics & general statistics behind the mela, but without much luck. this link provides the following info:

- * size of population in Allahabad: 2 million [BBC Jan 07]
- * number of visitors to Allahabad during the Maha Kumbh Mela: 1989: 15 million -- 2001: 50-70 million [DI Jan 07]
- * expected number of visitors to Allahabad during the Ardh Kumbh Mela 2007:
about 60 million [BBC Jan 07]
- * area covered by the festival ground in Allahabad: 1,620 hectares (6.2 square
miles) [BBC Jan 07]
- * number of tents erected as temporary accommodation on the Kumbh Mela
ground (2007): 50,000 [BBC Jan 07]
- * number of temporary toilets on the Kumbh Mela ground in Allahabad (2007):
25,000 [BBC Jan 07]
- * number of police patrolling the festival grounds (2007): 20,000 [BBC Jan 07]

So, you have an already largish city of 2 million swell to almost 20 times its normal size (the 70 million quoted is for the duration of the festival. The peak day sees around 35 million pilgrims), which makes approximately one temporary toilet for every 1,500 people.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:17 PM on February 7, 2007

Holy cow!
posted by figment of my conation at 9:04 PM on February 7, 2007

the threetwelve-yearly Kumbh Mela festival
posted by peacay at 9:06 PM on February 7, 2007

peacay, i think you are thinking of the twelve-yearly *maha* kumbh mela - maha meaning big or intense.

there is a mela every three years, but every fourth one is the biggie.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:20 PM on February 7, 2007

Good post UbuRoivas. Kama Maclean's book looks like an interesting read. Re: the toilets - there'll be a lot of manual scavenging going on I guess.
posted by tellurian at 10:23 PM on February 7, 2007

Since the city cannot possibly eliminate that much human waste in that short of time frame, it's pretty clear what 'nectar' those people are actually bathing in...
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:27 PM on February 7, 2007

Oh. Sorry about that. I was in India in the lead up to the 1989 maha kumbh mela so the 12 year thing stuck in my mind. It is a mind boggling event. I have many vivid memories of the wandering sadhus. Just...amazing. I remember reading of a sadhu who stood on one leg for 5 years to raise money to build a pig shed. I don't know why I remember that but it still spins me out.
posted by peacay at 10:30 PM on February 7, 2007

There's a documentary available about a trip to the festival.
posted by euphorb at 11:18 PM on February 7, 2007

Yeah, but that documentary is pretty awful. Like, totally.
posted by intermod at 4:24 AM on February 8, 2007

tellurian - yeh, a hunch tells me that the temporary toilets are probably not connected to the sewerage in any way. On manual scavenging (night soil removal):

Scavengers earn anywhere between Rs 20 to Rs 160 a month

That's 50c to $4 a month, in US terms.

Official figures show that there are still 3.43 lakh scavengers in the country.

That would be 343,000 people carrying away other peoples' shit on their heads.

The manual scavengers have different caste names in different parts of the country: [...] pakhis in Andhra Pradesh.

Heh. Everybody in India hates the Pakis.

Kama Maclean's book looks like an interesting read

Apparently originally an award-winning doctoral thesis.

T D Strange: it's pretty clear what 'nectar' those people are actually bathing in...

Ganges water is number one quality!

The water of Ganga is extremely pure and sanctifying. No germs can flourish in it. This has been tested by various scientists in the laboratory. Rich in minerals, this water cures almost all kinds of diseases.

Ganga is saturated with antiseptaic minerals. Even in the West, doctors prescribe Ganga water for rubbing in the treatment of diseases of the skin. Ganga is not merely a river. It is a sacred Tirtha (place of pilgrimage). It is possessed of mysterious powers which are not found in any other river in the world. Even scientists have admitted the efficacy of the Ganga water.

A British physician, Dr C.E. Nelson, F.R.C.S., tells us of another striking fact. He says that ships leaving Calcutta for England take water from one of the mouths of the Ganga; and this Ganga water remains fresh all the way to England. On the other hand, ships leaving England for India find that they must replenish their water supply at Port Said, Suez or Aden on the Red Sea. It is no wonder that the Indian people should hold that the Ganga is very sacred and possesses mysterious powers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:41 PM on February 8, 2007

there is a mela every three years, but every fourth one is the biggie

Yup, the Maha Kumbh Mela is the big one. Astonishing to know the sheer number of people gathered at one place at one time, although they're all moving in and out I suppose.

"It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites."

Mark Twain

(speaking of holy water)
posted by hadjiboy at 9:25 AM on February 9, 2007

Cool post UbuRoivas.

In 1976/1977 December/January I travelled across northern India from Dharmsala to Calcutta on Buddhist pilgrimage with my teacher. We went by train during the time of Kumbh Mela and it was almost impossible to find seats with literally millions of people en route all at one time. What was awesome was the gentleness, patience and quiet kindness of the Indians on the road, in spite of staggering crowds, sleeping on damp and chilly train platforms. I've never seen gentle crowds of people like that, astonishing. Done my share of swimming in the Ganges too, in Hardwar, with the occasional corpse drifting downstream. It's a beautiful and generous river.
posted by nickyskye at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2007

hadjiboy - never heard of that one. this is the zamzam that i am more familiar with.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:01 PM on February 9, 2007

there is no drink more exciting than zamzam!

The ZamZam Products is Drinks , Doogh , Whater , Delester and Malt Drink ...

ZamZam Group intends to increase its presence in international markets using its scientific and research potentials and integration of intentional parameters including ... ZamZam video clips!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:08 PM on February 9, 2007


there is no *beverage* more exciting than zamzam!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:10 PM on February 9, 2007

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