always been an important part of life in
India, where a celebration is held for almost
every occasion. Some festivals are traditional,
like Diwali, the Hindu New Year; some are
ceremonial, like Kojagari, the harvest festival;
and some are religious, like Rama-vijay,
which commemorates Lord Rama's victory over
the demon Ravana. All these festivals are
held with great pomp and rejoicing. But of
all the festivals in India, kumbha mela,
the festival held every twelve years at Allahabad,
on the bank of the Ganges River, is by far
The Kumbha Mela
derives its name from the immortalizing pot
of nectar described in India's ancient scriptures. Kumbba in
the Sanskrit language means "pot," pitcher," or "jar," and mela means "festival."
is internationally famous as the earth's
largest gathering of human beings. Throughout
the twentieth century, Western civilization
has marveled at the Kumbha Mela. Sensationalistic
and inaccurate journalism-reports of "millions
of ignorant people bathing in the filthy
water of the Ganges," worshiping pagan gods
and performing mysterious sacrifices"has
given the Western world something less than
a noble appreciation of the Kumbha Mela.
Thus few Westerners have taken the time to
attend a Kumbha Mela or to understand the
esoteric meaning of this poignant event.
There is something
about the Kumbha Mela, however, that captivates
the Western mind. Some people say the reaction
to the Kumbha Mela is so strong because it
represents the opposite of Western culture.
Others say that it beckons the
very soul of our existence, calling our higher
self to shake off attachments to worldly
life and step toward eternity. At any rate,
it stirs the thoughts and emotions
of most of us.
represents all that is India, past and present.
One sees represented at the festival all
the great spiritual cultures of India. Side
by side the ancient traditions stand with
a modern, industrialized India with all the
latest innovations in television, radio,
and computer technology.
I attended my
first Kumbha Mela in 1977 (and again in 1989).
At the time I had little knowledge of what
the festival was all about. I had heard mixed
reports about what to expect:
reports about bad sanitation facilities,
dirty water, widespread disease, and overcrowded
living conditions; stories about hundred-year-old
sages; stories about the magical waters of
the Ganges; and stories about yogis with
My first impression
as I stood on a high bridge
at the northern end of the festival grounds
overlooking an ocean of gray canvas tents
was that it was stunning. There were rows
of tents spread in every direction for as
far as the eye could see. Colorful flags
and banners waved gently in the sky. The
smell of burning wood pierced my nostrils
as the smoke of thousands of campfires filled
the air. Thousands of pilgrims bathed in
the sacred Ganges at sunrise, and dense crowds
filled the streets and thoroughfares.
As the days
passed, I encountered the wonder and mystery
of this grand festival. There was more to
see than I was able to comprehend. For
the first time in my life, I experienced
a cultural shock: not only was it difficult
to adjust to the customs and manners
of the Indian people, but I also found
myself questioning my own Western values.
The very foundation of my conception
of life, the reality in which I lived,
was shaken at its root. I was forced
by circumstance to find a new identity
within myself and to adopt a completely
new value system. My Western values just
weren't enough to deal with the profundity
of this grand bath mela.
was an unforgettable experience and a true
understanding of the Ganges festival. I began
to understand why millions of people attend,
and I began to imbibe an inkling of their
the West, I found my friends and relatives
unreceptive to my experience. It was
was foreign to their world. My words weren't
enough to paint a substantial picture of
this grand festival. I thought of Marco Polo,
who in the twelfth century had also traveled
to India and like me had had a difficult
time communicating his experiences to Westerners.
Trying to describe
what people have never seen is difficult.
I waited twelve years and returned to Allahabad
for this festival. This time I was accompanied
by a photographer friend. Equipped with
cameras and film, we were determined
to bring this wonderful experience to
the West in some tangible form,
We hope our
readers will enjoy this video and gain an
insight into the deep spiritual meaning of "the
world's largest act of faith."
The KUMBHA MELA VIDEO
Mandala Publishing Group
secure server or
Call toll free in