Travel

Witness One of the Largest Religious Festivals on the Planet: The Kumbh Mela

It is one of the largest religious festivals on the planet. Millions of pilgrims awash in saffron -- holy men in various stages of dress, families and a sprinkling of curious tourists -- make their way to the waters of the holy Godavari River for the Simhastha Kumbh Mela. Photographs by Dhiraj Singh for Bloomberg

It is one of the largest religious festivals on the planet. Millions of pilgrims awash in saffron -- holy men in various stages of dress, families and a sprinkling of curious tourists -- make their way to the waters of the holy Godavari River for the Simhastha Kumbh Mela. Informed by a mix of celestial alignment and Hindu mythology, every 12 years the festival beckons the faithful to be cleansed in the Godavari, which begins in the western state of Maharashtra.

The event comes at a cost projected at 24 billion rupees, or about $365 million.

That sounds like a lot of money until you consider this: some 10 to 12 million people are expected to attend and the state government could generate more than four times as much in revenues.

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    Welcome to an event formally known as the Simhastha Kumbh Mela.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    The earthly requirements are vast for hosting the event that the Maharashtra government notes is, "marked by the fact that millions of people participate in this great fair without any summons, call, notice or invitation."

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    The bill includes everything from road construction to temple restoration to additional manpower for garbage collection "so as to avoid outbreak of communicable infectious diseases."

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    The cost is projected at 23.78 billion rupees, or almost $358 million, according to an official report.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    All of which sounds like a lot of money and work until you consider this: some 10 to 12 million pilgrims are expected to attend.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    With the state government likely to generate more than 100 billion rupees, or $1.5 billion, in revenues, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    This year it was held in Nasik, from July 14 to Sept. 25. Travel to the site will include everything from rickshaws to airplanes. 

     

     

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    Hindu pilgrims walk towards a temple in Trimbakeshwar, on Sept. 11.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    A Hindu holy man talks with a doctor inside medical vehicle in Trimbakeshwar.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    A holy man stores a mobile phone in his loin cloth at the Godavari River in Nashik, on Sept. 13.     

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Pilgrims charge their mobile phones at a Vodafone India Ltd. charge station in Nashik.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    A bicycle vendor stands in his store as rain waters flood by in Nashik, on Sep. 12.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan features on an advertising billboard in Nashik, on Sep. 13. With Indian consumers streaming in from all directions, the Kumbh Mela is a goldmine for advertisers.     

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Colgate-Palmolive India Ltd. offer toothpaste to the masses in Nashik, on Sep. 12. At a Kumbh Mela in a different state during 2013, salespeople from Hindustan Unilever's ad agency worked alongside cooks to stamp roti flatbread with electric irons to burn-in an advertising message reminding customers to wash their hands before eating. 

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    A street cleaner awaits the debris.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Indian police women stand guard in Nashik. The government planned for 31 temporary police barracks and 24 watch towers in the city. In addition to petty crime, the threat of stampede is a serious one. Among the list of official Don'ts: Don't panic and run in any situation and Don't promote any rumors.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Pilgrims take a holy bath in the Godavari river.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    Foreigners attend the ceremony. The ASSOCHAM report said visitors were expected from states stretching across India and countries including Canada and Zimbabwe.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
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    A pilgrim takes the plunge.

    Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg