Public nudity is a frightening prospect responsible for countless people screaming, “OMG! I’m naked!” in their dreams. No such fear burdened the minds of over 2 million Hindu men, however, as they waddled butt-naked through the Ganges River in celebration of Kumbh Mela.
Kumbh Mela is a mass pilgrimage wherein men, especially holy men (Sadhus), travel long distances and endure numerous physical discomforts for a chance to wash away their sins. You see, devout Hindus strongly believe that the Ganges River holds the power to eliminate past sins (Karma), thereby freeing the individual from the cycle of life and death (Moksha) and bringing them closer to the supreme being (Braham).
The 100-day festival occurs every three years across four cities: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik. The pictures included in this piece derive from Haridwar, where on February 12th, the Pratham Shani Snan (or First Royal Bath) was celebrated.
Anil Sharma, a lawyer who attended the festivities, explained the baths further, saying, “Because of the way the stars are aligned during the Kumbh, all the good things you do get multiplied and your sins are washed away.” According to Hindu astrologers, in fact, the Kumbh Mela occurs whenever the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries.
The actual mythology behind Kumbh Mela is somewhat different, however. Ancient Hindu literature speaks of a war between the gods and demons over nectar needed to achieve a state of total immortality. During this conflict, four droplets of nectar spilled onto the Earth and landed at the four cities mentioned above.
As for the actual festivities, the truth is that not everyone was butt-naked. Some wore undergarments, while others merely smeared their bodies with ash. And on the outskirts of the river were throngs of cheering and dancing supporters, not to mention thousands of Po-Pos assigned to prevent stampedes and protect from a terrorist attack.
“We are keeping an eye on every moment,” said deputy inspector Alok Sharma. “We are well prepared for this day.”
This year’s festivities were of special importance because the Sadhus are trying to highlight the issue of global warming. Soham Baba, the de facto leader of the Sadhus, elaborated, “Sadhus like us who go up to the higher reaches of the Himalayas to meditate have a clear picture of how bad the situation is.”
He added, “Pristine lakes and waterfalls that existed till a few years ago have dried up.”