Massimiliano Sticca Photographer

Night at Maha Kumbh Mela

The major pilgrimage and festival in Hinduism celebrated every 12 years

When: February 2013

Where: Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

What: Night at Maha Kumbh Mela 2013


Kumbh Mela is celebrated in a cycle of approximately 12 years at four river-bank pilgrimage sites: the Allahabad (Ganges-Yamuna Sarasvati rivers confluence), Haridwar (Ganges), Nashik (Godavari), and Ujjain (Shipra). The festival is marked by a ritual dip in the waters, but it is also a celebration of community commerce with numerous fairs, education, religious discourses by saints, mass feedings of monks or the poor, and entertainment spectacle. The seekers believe that bathing in these rivers is a means to prāyaścitta (atonement, penance) for past mistakes, and that it cleanses them of their sins.
The festival is traditionally credited to the 8th-century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara, as a part of his efforts to start major Hindu gatherings for philosophical discussions and debates along with Hindu monasteries across the Indian subcontinent. However, there is no historic literary evidence of these mass pilgrimages were called “Kumbha Mela” prior to the 19th-century. There is ample evidence in historic manuscripts and inscriptions of an annual Magha Mela in Hinduism – with periodic larger gatherings after 6 or 12 years – where pilgrims gathered in massive numbers and where one of the rituals included a sacred dip in a river or holy tank. According to Kama MacLean, the socio-political developments during the colonial era and a reaction to the Orientalism led to the rebranding and remobilisation of the ancient Magha Mela as the modern era Kumbh Mela, particularly after the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The weeks over which the festival is observed cycles at each site approximately once every 12 years based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar and the relative astrological positions of Jupiter, sun and moon. The gap between Prayag and Haridwar festivals is about 6 years, and both feature a Maha (major) and Ardha (half) Kumbh melas. The exact years – particularly for the Kumbh Melas at Ujjain and Nashik – have been a subject of dispute in the 20th-century. The Nashik and Ujjain festivals have been celebrated in the same year or one year apart, typically about 3 years after the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. Elsewhere in many parts of India, similar but smaller community pilgrimage and bathing festivals are called the Magha Mela, Makar Mela or equivalent.
The Kumbh Melas have three dates around which the significant majority of pilgrims participate, while the festival itself lasts between one to three months around these dates. Each festival attracts millions, with the largest gathering at the Prayag Kumbh Mela and the second largest at Haridwar. The festival is one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the world, and considered as the “world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims”. It has been inscribed on the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The festival is observed over many days, with the day of Amavasya attracting the largest number on a single day. An estimated 30 million attended the Prayag Kumbh Mela on 10 February 2013.

One of these photo was choosen as “Photo of the day” on and as “Photo of the month” on

Blue hour at Kumbh Mela, dust, smoke, millions of people and tents, this is the greatest pilgrimage of the World.

Pilgrim on Shastri bridge at Maha Kumbh Mela 2013, in Allahabad.

Hindu devotees walk across pontoon bridges, going back from the holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati River, during the Maha Kumbh festival.

The entryway in Kumbh Mela

Pilgrims after the Mauni Amavasya day, are warming near the fire.

After Holy Bath Pilgrims cannot afford a tent pass over the night near a fire.

An old pilgrim is warming near the fire.

A Naga Sadhu preparing chillum during the Kumbh Mela..The Indian Sadhu’s (holy men) have been smoking chillums for thousands of years, and the spiritual meaning of this is comparable to the drinking of red wine by Catholics. At their rituals, the chillum is prepared with a combination of charas (herbs) and tobacco. Through a Hindu ceremony, the Hindu god Shiva was called upon, the Sadhus believing that Shiva would enter into the smoker.

In the ceremony, a wet Safi cloth is used, a stone inserted, and the mixture placed into the chillum. The chillum’s mouth piece is cupped in two hands and forms a closed prism, as the smoker inhales the smoke without the lips touching the pipe. He puffs violently to light the chillum sufficiently to be passed to the person to the right. In the ceremony of the Jamaican Rastas, the chillum used is made of a cow’s horn and wood.

The bank of Sangam are wet to decrease the dust in the air.

A theater tent in Kumbh Mela. Pilgrims after the holy bath can join shows in the tents.

Young women in a theater tent in Kumbh Mela.

Pilgrim in a Naga Baba tent

A Sadhu (or Naga Baba) in a tent in Kumbh Mela near a pilgrim. Sadhu is an ascetic holy man who devotes himself to the goal of moksha or liberation so that soul can overcome the cycle of reincarnation. The Sadhu tradition in India has a long history which can be traced back to the Vedic Age. Such a Hindu ascetic or a monk renounces worldly pleasures in pursuit of higher values of life in order to attain enlightenment. Through strict and hard practice Sadhu detached themselves from pleasures and pains of human life which makes them indifferent from world and transports them to the metaphysical world. Etymologically Sadhu is a Sanskrit word which means a wise man who renounces the world and all worldly pleasures in quest of spirituality, which ultimately lead them to enlightenment. In order to achieve the zenith of human life they live in caves, temples, forests and hill top, practicing strict code and conduct.

Sadhu with his motorbike, near a tent in Kumbh Mela. This is the images featured on National Geographic US and Italy.

Pilgrims praying on the roads of Kumbh Mela before Mauni Amavasya day (February 10th, 2013). 

A pilgrim, after the Mauni Amavasya day, is dragging a cart with a man without legs and just one arm.

Pilgrims waiting for Mauni Amawasya day, in a camp under Shashtri Bridge. People cannot afford a tent pass over the night near the banks of Sangam, on the roads of Allahabd or near the Shashtri Bridge pillars, waiting for the early morning to bathe in holy river.

Milions of people arrive at Kumbh Mela for Mauni Amawasya, the new moon day when both the sun and moon are in Capricorn.

Pilgrims waiting for Mauni Amawasya day, seen from the Shashtri Bridge.

Another detail of the Pilgrims seen from the Shashtri Bridge.