Maha Kumbh Mela – A day in Prayag

It was a long tiring day for us since morning. Finally, we call it a day after attending the marriage around 1:30 a.m. When we reached Allahabad few hours ago, we felt the change in the weather almost instantly. It was much warmer than Delhi, however, we had to use blankets at night, since night temperature dropped a few degrees.  The thought to go to Sangam before sunrise was in my mind. I always use my subconscious mind as an alarm clock in such situation and while I was in deep sleep, my subconscious mind was awake all night. I also wanted my wife & son to join me, but it would have been expecting too much from them. Finally, I managed to leave the place without disturbing anyone as planned earlier. It might have been altogether a different story, if the train was not running late.

It was still dark and street lights were on. There was no fog but, there was a chill in the air. I felt the strong cold breeze in my face, hugs my body and bones, as soon as I came to the road. The main road is within 5 minutes walking distance. The city was also sleeping at 5:30 in the morning. Though, Allahabad is not a new city to me, I was looking for someone for the direction. A rickshaw puller agreed to go to Sangam, which is about 6-7 Km from the place ‘Elenganj’, where we were staying. I felt completely refreshed, as the cool breeze blows through my hair and caresses my skin. The proverbial story of brothers and families getting separated and lost during the Kumbh Mela in Bollywood potboiler, was also in my mind. How big this could be, I wondered!

Dream fulfilled

Dream fulfilled

Finally, I was there standing in front of Sangam, believed to be the spot where Brahma offered his first sacrifice after creating the world. Sangam, the Confluence of three of the holiest rivers according to the Hindu Mythology – Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. The combined sacredness of the three rivers coupled with the mythological legend, according to which a few drops of nectar that turns mortal to immortal had fallen here, has made Allahabad the Tirthraja or, The King of Holy Places. The Kumbh mela takes place every 12 years at the confluence of the rivers – Ganges and Yamuna – at Prayag in Allahabad. The Mela will go on for two months and will conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10.

The Kumbh Mela is specially unique this time as it is taking place after a cycle of 144 years. The Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, at four places Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik. The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 ‘Purna Kumbh Melas’, or 144 years, is held at Allahabad.

This is precisely why Kumbh Mela organized in Allahabad in 2013 is of a different level and attracts millions of devotees to the shores. It was not a day of ‘Shahi Snans’ or ‘Royal bathing day’, when we were there on Saturday, the 2nd of February. However, the Sangam was full of people, taking holy dip or waiting for their turn.

Holy dip in the morning

Holy dip in the morning

Holy dip in the morning

Holy dip in the morning

There was still half an hour for the sunrise. Already several people gathered in the ghat for the holy dip. It is believed that a bath at the confluence of these three rivers increases the bather’s purification by hundred times. Whereas during the period of Kumbh Mela, it is believed that it is a thousand times stronger an influence.

Prayag

Prayag

The main bathing days for this year’s Kumbh Mela are Makar Sankranti (Jan 14), Paush Purnima (Jan 27), Mauni Amavasya (Feb 10), Basant Panchmi (Feb 15), Maghi Poornima (Feb 25) and Maha Shivratri (Mar 10). Last time, we couldn’t see Sangam and I was excited to see the place where the brownish Ganges meets the Greenish Yamuna. Both of which have an earthly origin in the Himalayan mountain range, Saraswati on the other hand has no physical form and is believed to exist ethereally, without being visible to the human eye. There is numerous boats available, which will ferry you till Sangam. I jumped into one such boat and very soon found myself in the middle of Yamuna. You can easily identify the difference in color of the two holy water streams. River Ganga is brownish due to heavy soil erosion through out its way; on the other hand river Yamuna is greenish.

Sunrise at Sangam

Sunrise at Sangam

“Hi, Nice to meet you.

Nice to meet you too. We heard that you were disappointed in Sultanpur. But we will make your day, a promise.

Thank you.”

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull

Yeah, it was a handshake kind of experience with our feathered friends. In the winters, Sangam attracts huge flocks of Siberian birds and according to locals most of these birds stay there throughout the year as well. These Siberian birds present a mesmerizing view at the Sangam. Bobbing up and down alongwith the ripples in the calm waters, these Siberian birds are an added attraction. The whiteness of the birds is dazzling on the sparkling clear waters of Ganga and Yamuna.

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull

Black Headed Gull

The three hours boat ride in the morning was an experience, I would never forget. I have never seen such a clean Yamuna. It will be difficult for you to believe that the black drain, which leaves Delhi as a sewer, laden with the city’s biological and chemical wastes and the Greenish Yamuna in Allahabad is actually the same. We have spent crores of rupees to clean our rivers, but we still have miles to go in this regard. True, public opinion is growing but still it seems that there is no accountability on this issue. Who does the Yamuna belong to, after all?

Clean Greenish Yamuna

Clean Greenish Yamuna

Majhi (the boatman)

Majhi (the boatman) – Thank you

Jal Police

Jal Police

After spending four hours, when I returned everyone has finished breakfast and curious to know about the mela. We left for Prayag once again in an hours’ time. We searched for the same boatman, as I had to pay him some money and reserved his boat for the rest of the day. Then we went to Sangam and roam around for few hours after taking holy dip together. They were very happy to be there and didn’t want to leave the place, particularly my son. He was very happy to see the birds flying all around him.

Finally, dream fulfilled for them as well

Finally, dream fulfilled for them as well

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

Allahabad Fort

Allahabad Fort

Allahabad Fort was built by Emperor Akbar in 1583. The fort stands on the banks of the Yamuna near the confluence with the river Ganges. It is the largest fort built by Akbar. At present is used by the army and only a limited area is open to visitors.

The meaning of ‘Mela’ is ‘gathering’ or ‘to meet’ or ‘a fair’. Mela can be religious, commercial, cultural as well. We have been in various types of Melas in the past, from rural to urban and ‘am in love to be with the crowds always. Every fair also has its’ own flair, so as Kumbh or Maha Kumbh Mela.  I was in Sangam twice in the past. However, the place seems to be completely changed and it was an altogether different look this time. There were thousands of tents, bamboo cottages. Atop of these flutter thousands of coloured flags of various religious sects. The entire area becomes a tent city, where pilgrims stay.

The Tent city

The Tent city

Will come back again...

Will come back again…

It was an indescribable feeling to see millions of people, gathered as far as the eyes can see, on the Ghats. I did miss the colorful, magnificent Procession of radiant saints on chariots and elephants at sunrise. Still, the sight is truly spectacular! The administration did a splendid job in organizing a successful mela. There are mobile hospitals, fire brigade and we are impressed with the security arrangements. I will be failed in my duty if I don’t mention about the people of Allahabad, be it volunteers,  rickshaw puller, boatman or the autowalla, we received a warm welcome from everyone with a smile.  I was touched when the boatman told me that I can give him the money whenever I will visit next, as he wasn’t carrying change. The rickshaw puller took the extra pain to carry our suitcases when we couldn’t find anyone and our car was waiting at the opposite side of the station. He refused to take extra money from us and there were few such incidents happened in just one day of our stay. Unbelievable but true. I am neither an atheists nor considered myself a religious person either. Religion is very personal to me and to me only. This is our first experience of Kumbh mela and we considered ourselves fortunate to meet them and to be just a part of Maha Kumbh which takes place in 144 years. That’s the biggest rewards for us from the mela.

Sunset at Prayag

Sunset at Prayag

As the sun sets slowly in the west, we wave goodbye with a promise to come back again and pray to the almighty to give us a chance to witness & be a part of another Kumbh mela at some other place, where all the pleasures of a comfortable life are shunned for the time by millions of devotees.

35 Comments

  • Stone says:

    Beautiful narration Amitava.
    Loved the way you described the place and occasion; one can sense the serenity of the place and your flow of thoughts. And all photos you posted here are marvelous.

    Thanks for sharing such a lovely post with us.

    • Thank you Sandip.

      We were at the same place twice in the past, but never felt like this before. This time, we spent an entire day from sunrise to sunset and never ever felt to leave the place. We were there only for a day but we were completely satisfied.

      It was a different kind of experience for all of us and enjoyed fully.

  • Surinder Sharma says:

    Excellent photos, nice to see someone at Kumbh from Ghummakar.

    • Thank you Surinder.
      It was not planned properly and just an instant decision to attend the marriage two weeks earlier, only to be a part of the Mela, even if for a day only. Hope you have liked the post as well.

  • Vipin says:

    Lovely fluid narration, Amitava Da! You have beautifully captured and covered the early morning experience at Sangam…captures are too good, so is your narration…it’s good to see a fleet of birds at Sangam as well, really a sangam of humans, wildlife and mother nature….I used to think about the non-existence of River Saraswati untill I saw it flowing wildly near Mana Village, Badrinath…now my dream is to go & see it’s origin @ Deo Taal near Mana Pass on Indo-Tibet Border….Thanks for sharing such a refreshing post!

    • Thank you Vipin and very well said, a Sangam of human, wildlife and the mother nature.

      I am aware of the river Saraswati…I think few months before I read an article on Mana Village and saw some beautiful pictures of the river Saraswati, here in Ghumakkar…I just can’t remember the name of our friend right now…I wish you good luck – it will definitely be an enjoyable trip for you too…wishing you good luck…Take care,

  • deepak says:

    Great writeup with excellent photographs…how was the management by local police and authorities ?

    • Thank you Deepak for liking the post & the photographs.

      We found the arrangements are in excellent quality. Agreed, there were few mishaps, but controlling a crowd of this magnitude for almost two months requires a great effort.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    I was looking forward for this one. The captures have been terrific, especially of birds, the fort and the tents-colony. It need a lot of effort to be up all day and then getup so early next morning, go to sangam all by yourself and present it to us. Bravo my friend. Thank much.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you so much Nandan.

      So, you liked the pictures…me too and there are a lot of pictures…16 GB memory card was full by the time we returned home and took some time for me to categorize them & pick-up only few for all of you. When you have only one day in your hand, you just can’t sleep for long, I believe in that completely…and the pleasure is all ours…we had to return next day…my office and their schools were open…didn’t take long leave.

      The return journey was horrible…from 45 mins delay, train reached Allahabad at 1 p.m. after 5 hours and finally we reached New Delhi by 4 in the morning (delay of 11 hours) from its’ scheduled time to arrive at 5 p.m. previous day. We were at Allahabad station at 7 a.m. and reached home by 5 next day morning. All the way, we were thinking why we didn’t take our car, at least it would have been much more enjoyable…and we went there by car earlier as well…however, if we forget our to & fro journey, it was an excellent experience for all three of us.

      I was not sure whether I would be able to complete this post for today or not. Couldn’t spend much time on it due to fever last week and worked till late evening last night…I am also glad to present this post to all of you today, which I thought to postpone just a couple of hours ago.

  • wow.. what a narration . All photographs are excellent…… specially the birds.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you so much.

      I am happy that you liked the post and photographs.
      I couldn’t check the site for last few days…will have a lot to catch-up during this weekend…and your posts are one of them.

  • SilentSoul says:

    beautifully explained with captivating fotos. The foto of Allahbad fort has come very beautiful.

    Yamuna as we know in Delhi is a “Ganda Nala” whose black water should not be touched even. I donno how this becomes a river after delhi. May be some tributaries are filling it with green water… perhaps chambal and other such rivers.

    Great log Amtava…bravo

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Tx SS
      …still in learning stage on how to control aparatures, light, shutter speed etc. etc. glad you liked the picture…that foto is also one of my favourite.

      Yeah true…everyone in Delhi NCR remember our Yamuna as ‘Ganda Nala’ for a long time…that stinking smell…initially when I started to write, once I thought to post one picture for all readers just to compare…but, finally decided not to post, otherwise it may spoil the post completely.

      I do wonder the same, as you mentioned.

      Really happy to receive feedback from all of you.

  • SilentSoul says:

    beautifully explained with captivating fotos. The foto of Allahbad fort has come very beautiful.

    Yamuna as we know in Delhi is a “Ganda Nala” whose black water should not be touched even. I donno how this becomes a river after delhi. May be some tributaries are filling it with green water… perhaps chambal and other such rivers.

    Great log Amitava…bravo

  • VCM says:

    Nomoshkar!
    Your trip to the MahaKumbha Mela Prayag has been very well described and brings back myriad memories of the city which is my birth place.Your picture too are very telling.
    We had thought of going to Prayag this year but GANGA,YAMUNA & SARASVATI -THRIVENI SANGAM decided otherwise.
    Nothing is in our hands.It is Bhagavaan who does everything.

    My paternal grandmother used to come every year for taking Gangasnaan in the month of Magha.
    As a child I used to wonder as to what made her go through the travails of cold winter mornings traveling in a rickshaw with a friend for companion!We did not have a car and so the only vehicle for commuting anywhere & everywhere was the humble rickshaw.

    Years have passed & I realize that it was pure Dharmic vishvaas & the ?????? ?????? for attaining something “higher”!My humble Namaskaarams to all the people of pure simple faith!

    The river Sarasvati is not a mythical as written & falsely propagated in our history books.
    Please read Dr.S. Kalyanaraman’s great research work on the discovery of the Sarasvati river & Sarasvati civilization.
    http://www.stephen-knapp.com/recent_research_on_the_sarasvati_river.htm

    And please also spread this great truth of our Bharateeya civilization.

    And once again thank you for the very beautiful blog article on your trip to Prayag.
    Are you from Allahabad? You have written about Allenganj.We had our house in Tagore Town.

    Wishing all a very auspicious ????????? !?? ?? ?????!!!!!

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Nomoskar.
      First of all, thank you for coming to this post and liking the same.
      If this post brings back those childhood memories, I will be very happy to note. I too have similar incidents with my grandparents. ‘Chal ek bar Gangasnaan kore ashi’. When we shifted to Howrah, the nearest Ghat is Shibpur, which is close to 5-6 Km distance from our home and yes, Rickshaw was also our only mode of transport. My grandparents are no longer with us in this earth…Thank you for bringing them back to me as well.

      I think I have already got my share and you made my day as well. Those are sweet momories and we live to remember them always…difficult to forget.

      No, we are not from Allahabad. We went there to attend a friend’s marriage and were staying in a Guesthouse at ‘Ellenganj’/’Allenganj’ near Buaxi Bandh/Mandi.

      Let me also accept my ignorance about the fact, as I am not a scholar and didn’t research on the subject. I have gone through the link shared with by you and just pray that someday the route of this river will be discovered.

      Wishing you too a very auspicious ????????? !?? ?? ?????!!!!!

  • Dear Amitava,

    Super duper liked your story and the supporting visuals. Although it was prose, it felt like poetry. Your pictures have come out real good. Strangely, at the place where there were lakhs and lakhs of people, you could experience calm and serene atmosphere, birds playing in water, twilight and all such things. I hope your pics of day time must be the testimony of a lot of activity, rush, madness. It was really a great idea to reach the Kumbh Mela venue much before sunrise.

    I feel that real spiritualism can be witnessed in the lives of those rikshaw walla, boat man and those unnamed people who are simple hearted and believing in strangers. This is real India. Or, should I say, Bharat !!!

  • Amitava Chatterjee says:

    Tx Sushant.
    It really felt great to receive appreciation from all of you.
    I am really glad to note that you too like the visuals. Actually, I am waiting for some tips from you on lighting…how to control / adjust…looking forward eagerly for your next post.

    Yeah, we spent six hours in the boat, away from the madening crowd and atmosphere was such a great that we never felt to go to any other place this time. I did capture the rush, madness and many more, but personally these pictures I like the most and thought to share with you all. I made up my mind to reach there before Sunrise whatever the situation might be.

    You are right in saying that real spiritualism can be witnessed in the lives of those…these things matters the most…this is not just for the sake of saying in public, I mean it too personally. This is real India. Thank you once again.

  • Rakesh Bawa says:

    Amitava Ji , Maza aa gaya, really. The story has come out to be so captivating. Nice that your dream being at Mahakumbh has been fulfilled.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thanks a lot Prof. for liking the post.
      We have never thought to be there and when we did that, we were extremely happy.

  • I always thought of going to Prayag during Kumbh mela could be a scary proposition but after reading your’s this poetic post, now I want to visit this gala of multitudes.

    Thanks.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Praveen.

      The next Kumbh Mela will be held at Nashik on the bank of the river Godavari in 2015 (15 August to 13 September) – you can plan accordingly. Wishing you good luck.

  • Brilliant post !!

    Have been to this place many time but never been during Kumbh.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Mahesh.
      Same here…we were also there thrice in the past, but this time it’s really different.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Amitava,

    The photos are heavenly. You will also need to share your learning curve about speeds and apertures.

    I think for Kumbh, the authorities released water from canals and dams. Otherwise never seen water so clean and debri free.

    Is the Allahabad fort bigger than Fathepuri Sikri or Agra Fort?

    I loved reading the post!

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you Nirdesh for the compliment and liking the post.

      Let’s see, we already have an expert and his next post on lighting will definitely help us a lot and I look forward for that; we also have DL who give us very good tips on this subject always…they are masters in this field…may be few years down the line or next year I will share my take on this. Regarding learning, I ask my colleagues and learn a few things from them as well on a daily basis and these tips are really useful but finally no one can teach you the photographic mood/sense, that is your’s only…a lot of things also depend on you, your mood on that particular time and the surroundings

      I really have no idea about the source of water, but whatever the source may be, it is crystal clear and with good treatment plants, agreed that these are expensive, but with good intention, Law, strict actions by authorities, Govt, it is still possible to revive our rivers…keep our fingers crossed for one good leader who can ?

      It is…but only a small section is open for public and we are yet to visit the fort.

  • Bapu Nagar says:

    Excellent write up! I was there from Feb 13-16 and enjoyed every moment of it. I dispersed my mother’s ashes at Triveni Sangam and also had a Sahi Snan on Feb 15, Vasant Panchmi day. It was not that crowded and was able to move around freely. The whole atmosphere looked heavenly!
    About 144 years…I believe it was the last Kumbh Mela held in Prayag in 2001…Maha Kumbh Mela.

  • Bapu Nagar says:

    Sorry Amitava…I was wrong. This is the ‘Maha Kumbh Mela’ as 2001 was Purna Kumbh Mela. I feel now even more fortunate and blessed.

    • Amitava Chatterjee says:

      Thank you for liking the post.
      Sorry to hear about your mother. May her soul rest in peace.
      We were there only for a day and we too enjoyed our day fully and you were there for 4 days and also fortunate to be there on Basant Panchami Day.

  • Wonderful post Amitava ,

    Finally I went there on 6th and 7th March. Your post reminded me of this great gathering. Most of the tents were uprooted when I went there. But really an awesome experience. One should never miss this one .Thanks a lot for sharing your experience.

  • Tx Vishal
    It is good to know that you finally made it…yeah, it must be a lifetime experience for you. Since you were there almost during the last phase of the fair, tents must have been uprooted.
    So, did you manage to go to Varanasi & Baidyanathdham this time?

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