Maha Kumbh Mela 2013

PhotographerMassimiliano Ghetta
PrizeHonorable Mention

The Kumbh Mela is arguably the most important religious festival for all Hindus. Taking place at turn in one among four Indian locations facing sacred rivers, this is the only time and place in the world in which, by bathing in the holy waters, Hindu devotees can attain liberation from sins committed in their lives and in all previous reincarnations. This paves the way to liberation from Samsara (the cycle of births, deaths and re-births) and attainment of Moksha (eternal beatitude). Kumbh Melas’ importance varies from time to time, depending on the astrological position of Jupiter, the sun and the moon. The Kumbh Mela held in 2013 was the most auspicious one: a Maha Kumbh Mela, occurring every 144 years in Prayag (Allahabad), at the confluence of the sacred Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical invisible river Saraswati. The spiritual importance of the festival, together with India’s overpopulation, make of Kumbh Melas the biggest mass gathering events of the planet. This year, probably due to the exceptional astrological outlook, the pilgrims’ attendance largely passed all expectations: about 100 million people bathed in the Ganges and Yamuna. 30 million just on February 10, 2013, the day of Mauni Amavasya, the most favorable astrological alignment for sacred bathing. These figures have a significance of their own, going well beyond curiosity and records. They prove the utmost importance of the event for the Indian community at large. Washing away sins of a lifetime, thus shortening the long path to eternal beatitude, cannot be considered mere obeisance to a religious precept. In a country where the vast majority of the population still lives in very humble conditions and social mobility is so challenging, assuring oneself a better “afterlife” can be the only possible redemption. Millions of Indians leave their villages, often for the first time, and together with their families face the discomforts, dangers and burdens of a long trip to be in Allahabad at the right moment to dip in the water and be purified. The images of mass baths in the Ganges and of Naga Sadhus (naked holy men) covered with ash parading in front of ecstatic crowds, do not tell the whole story. There is a more hidden and intimate side of Kumbh Mela made of endless walks in darkness, of people sleeping in the dirt, of long waits for the sunrise in the cold Allahabad nights. The calm wandering of these people on the river banks, the peacefulness of their faces while going through strife and roughness, their simple joy for the achievement, are probably not only the most accurate depiction of Kumbh Mela’s true meaning, but, more in general, of some of the most noble and touching traits of people throughout the Indian sub-continent. * All the photos submitted were taken in the night of February 9-10, 2013