One year ago today was the start of the Kumbh Mela festival which happens every 12 years. It is probably the largest communal display of faith in the world. I guess that faith is required if as part of the ceremony you are expected to drink the waters of the Ganges!
For full twelve days and full twelve nights
above the skies of India
the demi-gods and demons fought
for the Kumbh of amrita.
Then cutting through the raging fight
Lord Vishnu swooped and, drawing near,
snatched the Kumbh and flew away
with that immortal elixir
spilling drops at Nashik, Ujjain
Allahabad and Haridwar.
Now each twelve years there’s festival
at one of those four holy sites
when Capricorn hosts sun and moon
and Aries Jupiter’s bright light.
This year it’s in Allahabad
where Ganges and Yamuna bind
the chilly waters in Sangam
that purge the soul and mind
in the king of holy places,
known as Prayag, tirtharaja.
With marigolds around their necks,
the naked ash-smeared men appear
to lead the Sadhus to the shores,
ascetics, Hindu holy seers.
For eight long weeks the pilgrims bathe;
this year a hundred million strong
will dip and drink to cleanse their sins
and claim salvation all life long.
The world’s most massive act of faith
The festival of Kumbh Mela
14th January 2013 – headline from the BBC
Notes: “India’s Hindu Kumbh Mela festival begins in Allahabad.” Hundreds of thousands of people have been bathing at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Allahabad in India, on the opening day of the Kumbh Mela festival. Up to 10 million more pilgrims are set to do so by the end of the day. The event, every 12 years, is billed as the biggest gathering on Earth. More than 100 million people are expected to attend the 55-day festival. Hindus believe a festival dip will cleanse sins and help bring salvation. In 2001, more than 40 million people gathered on the main bathing day of the festival, breaking a record for the biggest human gathering. The Kumbh Mela has its origins in Hindu mythology – many believe that when gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar, a few drops fell in the cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar – the four places where the Kumbh festival has been held for centuries.