KUMBH MELA. Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City

Kumbh Mela è il più grande raduno religioso che esiste nel mondo. È un pellegrinaggio Hindu che si celebra ogni 12 anni e che, a seconda delle posizioni di Giove, il sole e la luna, spinge una folla infinita di persone a recarsi verso i fiumi sacri, come il Gange, per immergersi in quelle acque e purificarsi. Per accogliere i milioni di pellegrini che partecipano (circa 80 milioni nel 2013) vengono costruite delle vere e proprie città temporanee dotate di tutti quei servizi che un evento di tale spessore richiede: tendopoli, ospedali, ambulatori, ponti galleggianti, linee elettriche, strade, trasporti, caserme di polizia, servizi di ristorazione, alloggi, ecc. Un gruppo di studiosi di Harvard nel 2013 ha deciso di partecipare a questo pellegrinaggio per seguire da vicino la progettazione, la costruzione e il successivo smantellamento di queste città e analizzare i problemi che possono emergere da un incontro umano su larga scala. Kumbh Mela. Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City edito dalla Hatje Cantz, è il resoconto di questo studio: un libro che raccoglie fotografie, grafici, diagrammi, mappe del territorio, testimonianze che danno un quadro preciso e per molti aspetti incredibile di quello che è Kumbh Mela.

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Kumbh Mela is the biggest religious gathering in the world: it is and Hindu pilgrimage that involves millions of people (80 millions in 2013) that are hosted in temporary cities especially built for the event. A group of Harvard researchers has participated in it to study the design, building and dismantling of these cities which involves hospitals, streets, bridges, police stations, electrical systems and much more. This book published by Hatje Cantz presents the study through photos, diagrams, maps to give us a clear and incredible picture of the Kumbh Mela.

Authors: Harvard University South Asia Institute / Publisher: Hatje Cantz / English edition / ISBN: 9783775739900 / €35.00


Put your hands up for Amar!

He is Sadhu Amar Bharati , a holy man from India who has kept his right hand up for the past 41 years, since 1973. His arm is just a bone and skin, which he can’t move or use anymore.

After having a normal life with his wife and three children he decided to separate himself from the mortal ones.

Sources claim Amar Bharati felt disillusioned by all the fighting going on in the world, and decided to raise his right arm for peace. A respected Sadhu at the Kumbh Mela, in Haridwar, Amar has inspired other Sadhus to raise their arms for peace and harmony, and some of them have kept them raised for the last seven, thirteen, even 25 years. But doing something like this doesn’t just mean giving up the functionality of an important body part, it also implies dealing with a lot of pain.

“One of the secret roots of rastafari: these photos from the Kumbh Mela, the three yearly Hindu festival now going on, remind us of one of the usually unacknowledged contributions of India to Caribbean culture. Some 36000 Indians came to Jamaica between 1838 and 1917 as Indentured servants. They brought with them the Hindu idea of the Sadhu– the ascetic wandering monk, not eating meat, growing his locks, smoking his chillum, living for things of the spirit – and this is one of the usually forgotten roots of rastafarianism. Every wonder why they call it colly weed: colly weed = Kali weed”

The layers are abundant. My spiritual beliefs stem from both my personal journey as well as my families’ historical narrative. I align more closely with Hinduism however I grew up with both practices and it moves me to see that Hinduism and Rastafarianism, as with most practices, are indeed reflections of the same truth. Love my little island home.



© Daniel Berehulak, 2013, Kumbh Mela 2013, Allahabad, India

“The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth, is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam, at the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Lasting 55 days, it is celebrated at the holy site of Sangam in Allahabad; in 2013, by the time it’s over, around 100 million people will have made the pilgrimage to the festival.

But how does one show the largest gathering of people on the planet in photographs? My photojournalist colleagues and I had been planning for months to try and document the Kumbh Mela, but there seemed to be no concrete information anywhere on the best way to organize our shoots. The most basic questions were difficult to answer:

How would we cover the event? Would we work on the ground? From the water? And, most fundamentally, how would we differentiate our work from the work of countless other photographers covering the gathering? How, in the end, does one convey something so unfathomably vast in pictures?” (Daniel Berehulak, read more)

Check out more stunning panoramas of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on TIME LightBox.

Find more Kumbh Mela photos (also some of mine) in my archives. I have been to the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010 and it was a life-changing experience. Special thanks to Sunil, Kritika, Pakshalika & Pranayini for the wonderful time, I miss you guys so much…


My friend and part-time niece Sandra asked me several times when I will finally publish more of my India & Kumbh Mela photos. Today I wrote her to check my blog at about 3:15pm CET for a surprise, and I ended the mail with “Namasté.”

Hello Sandra! Sorry, you still have to wait a little longer… but as I couldn’t find any ’Amrita’ (the nectar of immortality) in Haridwar, I decided to hurry up and post some of my photos very soon, I swear ;) and remember:

“Perhaps time’s definition of coal is the diamond.”
Kahlil Gibran

Seeing these wonderful panoramas also makes me want to share my work within the next days or maybe weeks (depending on my travel plans) - both digital and analog (I’ve planned to get a decent film scanner soon).