Inside the 'Largest Human Gathering in History'

The Kumbh Mela draws tens of millions

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 15, 2013 11:27 AM CST | Updated Jan 19, 2013 12:07 PM CST

(Newser) – If you've never heard of the Kumbh Mela, well, you're sort of forgiven. As Quartz explains, the event is largely ignored by the West—even though it occurs every three years, with a big to-do every 12, and just so happens to be the "largest human gathering in history." This is one of those purna ("complete") years, and attendance estimates for the 55-day religious festival, which began this week, top out at 110 million Hindus. They'll gather at the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati, to wash away their sins; more than 10 million were expected to do so on the first day alone. Some of the numbers behind the gathering, per the AP and BBC:

  • 50,000 police are on hand to keep order and attempt to prevent stampedes
  • More than 1 million tents have been raised
  • There are 35,000 makeshift toilets available—and another 4,000 urinals
  • Some 10,000 sweepers will attempt to keep the northern city of Allahabad clean; as much as 165 tons of trash will be generated a day
  • With temps dipping as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit, some 2,700 tons of firewood will be burned
  • There's a lost and found—for people, not things

An Indian Hindu holy man performs morning prayers for devotees at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati at the Maha Kumbh Mela.
An Indian Hindu holy man performs morning prayers for devotees at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati at the Maha Kumbh Mela.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Indian Hindu devotees gather on the banks at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna.
Indian Hindu devotees gather on the banks at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Indian Hindu devotees bathe at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati.
Indian Hindu devotees bathe at Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganges and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
An Indian Hindu, with one hand covered for counting prayers on beads, performs morning rituals at Sangam.
An Indian Hindu, with one hand covered for counting prayers on beads, performs morning rituals at Sangam.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
A foreign devotee prays at  Sangam.
A foreign devotee prays at Sangam.   (AP Photo /Deepak Sharma)
Millions of Hindu devotees gather early morning at Sangam.
Millions of Hindu devotees gather early morning at Sangam.   (AP Photo /Manish Swarup)
An Indian Hindu man jumps up and down in the water as he takes a dip at Sangam.
An Indian Hindu man jumps up and down in the water as he takes a dip at Sangam.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
An Indian Hindu reacts after being taken for a dip at Sangam.
An Indian Hindu reacts after being taken for a dip at Sangam.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
Naked Hindu holy men or a Naga Sadhus rub ash on their bodies after a dip.
Naked Hindu holy men or a Naga Sadhus rub ash on their bodies after a dip.   (AP Photo /Manish Swarup)
An Indian Hindu holy man, or Naga Sadhu, swings his head as he bathes at Sangam.
An Indian Hindu holy man, or Naga Sadhu, swings his head as he bathes at Sangam.   (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
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