About 10 crore people are expected to take a dip in the holy Sangam as Kumbh kicks off next week. PRASHANT PANDEY visits Allahabad as it gets ready to host the 56-day mela.
Sangam has its regular visitors, the winged Siberian variety that flock to the river every winter, hovering low over the chilled waters, flapping their wet wings. But this year, as Allahabad hosts the Kumbh—what the Guinness World Records calls the “largest-ever gathering of human beings for a single purpose”—the birds will have to share their territory. Visitors to the mela will squeeze into every inch of the city’s space, its hotels, benches, tents, the sandy ghats. They will also descend in hordes to take a dip in the Sangam, the fiery Naga sadhus first followed by the rest of humanity.
With a week left for the 56-day Kumbh to begin, the river bed along the Ganga at Allahabad has turned into a city of tents. This is Kumbh Nagri, spread over 58.03 square km, where faith, religion, new-age spirituality, commerce and exoticism will mingle seamlessly over the next couple of months. The kumbh begins on January 14 this year and the devout will soon start spilling into the city’s bus and railway stations, most of them painfully poor and drawn to the mela in the belief that a dip in the Sangam—the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati—during the Kumbh will free them of the pains of rebirth.
According to Hindu mythology, the gods and demons fought over a pitcher or kumbh that had the nectar of immortality. As they struggled, four drops of nectar spilled on to four locations along the Ganga: Allahabad, Ujjain, Nashik and Haridwar. The Kumbh is held in each of these cities by turn every three years, so each city hosts the Kumbh every 12 years.
This year, an estimated 10 crore people are expected to reach Allahabad in time for Kumbh, a giant logistical challenge. As this multitude arrives in the city, the administration is taking no chances.