"The greatest recorded number of human beings assembled with a common purpose."


The Maha Kumbh Mela (Great Festival of the Urn) is a spiritual festival held every twelve years near the Indian town of Allahabad.

Pilgrims gather here from all over India and around the world: gurus, spiritual leaders and their devotees, and ascetic sadhus who emerge from their solitary forest retreats and mountain caves.

They come to the sangam - the sacred confluence of three rivers: the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

On special set days everyone takes a holy dip, a ritual believed to guarantee release from the cycle of rebirth - literally a short cut to the state of purest bliss... nirvana.

The Kumbh Mela has been held for over two thousand years, although its origins are shrouded in Hindu legend. The 2001 event was considered to be particularly auspicious because it coincides with certain planetary alignments that only occur every 144 years, or once every 12 Maha Kumbh Melas.



The holy Ganga and Yamuna rivers meet at the Kumbh Mela (top)
Pilgrims by the million! (l) Pontoon bridge across the Ganga River (r)

Photo credit: Nick Day
Satellite image courtesy Space Imaging, Inc.