Jayanta Shaw
Former Reuter's Photojournalist
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In India, and perhaps in India alone, any congregation of great humanity defies all possible stratification. Instead, it would be an undefinable milieu of diversity: diverse cultures, languages, social castes and sub-castes, culinary preferences, economic classes, political beliefs, moral codes, and any other classification you could imagine. That is also the reason why you may hope to obtain a whiff of a semblance of the spirit of India by journeying to such a pilgrimage. Kumbha Melas are surely among the most dazzling examples of this mind-boggling diversity, that can never be reduced to statistics. What is a Kumbha Mela? Kumbha literally means a pitcher. Mela is a fair. In simplified terms, the most important of these fairs are organized at four places, where, the legend says, amrita, the immortality-nectar, was spilled from its pitcher. It is possible to read reality in this legend if we reflect for a moment that all the four major Kumbha Melas are held on the banks of great rivers: the Ganga, in Haridwar, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and (the now invisible) Saraswati in Allahabad, the Godavari in Nashik and the Shipra in Ujjain. The amrita waters of these great rivers have sustained a tumultuous humanity along their banks for millennia, never bothering to find out to what religion, what caste or language or belief they belong. The nectar is for all. It is to partake of this nectar that millions gather on the banks of these rivers, on certain dates, and take a symbolic dip in their waters as the Sun rises.
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