To put it simply, Kumbh Mela is a MASS HINDU PILGRIMAGE, possibly the biggest consecutive religious gathering in the world. From January 14th to April 28th 2010, the town of Hardiwar on the banks of the Ganga was the centre of festivities for the first time in 12 years. Though an official number of visitors is hard to gauge it was definitely in the tens of millions.
Pilgrims come from the far corners of India and abroad to take a dip in the Ganga, curing all sins and evils and granting the bather salvation – thanks to Lord Vishnu spilling some of the nectar of immortality on Hardiwar while on the run from angry demons. Many devotees also believe that thanks to enhanced electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, Moon and Jupiter, the waters of the Ganga are charged with positive healing effects. A trip to Kumbh basically means a regular fresh start and clean bill of health, no confessions or medical treatments necessary.
Kumbh Mela has been going on for a long time; the first written evidence can be traced back to the 6th Century in the accounts of Chinese traveller Huan Tsang. In 1895 American author Mark Twain visited Kumbh Mela and wrote;
“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.”
The final instalment of India in Analog