My fiction novel “A Geordie Up The Ganges” was inspired by my Adventure Of A Lifetime to India in 2013.
One highlight of my adventure was visiting the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (now called Prayagraj), and the sights, sounds, smells and sensations will be forever etched in my memory.
Whilst weaving my story I was determined my main character, Jen, would experience this spectacular event too… and then live to tell the reader the extraordinary tale of what happened to her there.
So, just what is the Kumbh Mela?
Legend has it that it all began with an almighty ruck between gods and demons. What were they fighting over? Well, they battled over an urn, or “kumbh”, containing drops of the nectar of immortality. As they grappled, drops of the nectar fell upon four places along the River Ganges; Haridwar (the location in my story), Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain. Each of these places hosts the Kumbh Mela once every twelve years on a rotation basis, so around every three years there’s a Kumbh taking place in India.
The Kumbh is the biggest gathering of humans in the world. Ever. This year in Allahabad approximately 150 million visitors attended over the 55 days of the festival, with an estimated 50 million pilgrims bathing in the Ganges on the most auspicious bathing day.
Who goes to the Kumbh and Why?
Hindus believe that bathing in the River Ganges at the time of the Kumbh will wash away their sins and help them reach Hinduism’s ultimate spiritual goal of attaining Nirvana; release from the constant cycle of death and re-birth.
Holy men descend from their caves in the Himalayas and travel from all over India to gather, bathe in the waters and deliver their teachings to the millions of devotees. Pilgrims travel hundreds of miles from every corner of India. Sightseers arrive from the the many countries of the world. Here’s a brief description of the types of sadhus to be found at the Kumbh;
- Nagas – naked ash covered sadhus with long matted hair. They constantly smoke marijuana believing it aids enlightenment.
- Urdhwavahurs – have emaciated bodies from rigid spiritual practices.
- Parivajakas – who have taken a vow of silence.
- Kalpvasis – who bathe numerous times a day.
- Aghoris – the most feared sect of holy men in India, renowned for cannibalism and ancient dark rituals.
When you visit the Kumbh, you look into the soul of India. It’s a magnificent celebration of the joy of life as mesmerising as it is spiritual. It’s one of the most intense experiences on earth.
In A Geordie Up The Ganges what happens to Jen at the Kumbh is fiction mixed with a sprinkling of truth. As I tapped into my keyboard, the memories came flooding back. As I wrote I laughed, I cried and my skin tingled just as it had on that unforgettable day in 2013.
Such is the magic of the Kumbh Mela!
Here are a few of my images from that mind-blowing day.