The Kumbh Mela rotates every four years around four locations in Northern India. This year Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh is the host city for the most revered of Hindu ceremonies that is pivotal to those who observe one of the world’s oldest faiths.
Hindu religious text talks of a fight between good and evil over a cask of nectar. In the ensuing struggle four drops fell to earth at four locations along the route of the River Ganges.
Rich and poor have arrived here from all corners of India and beyond to pay homage to the gods and pray for salvation for them, their families, and the human race. They are tired and many have only enough money to stay for the opening few days. They are housed by their sects, some in tents, some in communal open air sheds.
I've been up since 3am on this the first official day of the ‘Kumbh’ as it’s known. As a Muslim it’s my first time and I am looking at this through spectacles which are very different from Hindus. My eyes are witnessing an event which has to be seen to be believed, and is on a par with the Muslim Hajj as far as the sense of size and devotion is concerned.
The scale on which this tented extension to the city has emerged is a feat of organisational prowess, commendable here but, in a country where everything seems to be so disorganized, also seems out of place.
The tented city is arranged like the North American block system. Iron flat sheets act as road track in the soft sand and run North to South, East to West. Every corner has a contingent of police officers, a police booth every other block, and a first aid post.
The Inspector General of police told us his concern was to make sure the millions of visitors were reassured that every guarantee has been made to ensure the worshippers have a safe, trouble free Kumbh Mela. CCTV and as many plain clothes police officers are watching to make sure nothing spoils an event that many have waited a lifetime for.
And that is the point. Many have waited a life time for this. Some visiting Hindus may have been to several 'Kumbhs' but you have a good idea by just observing who is here for the first time. They have split away from the family group they have come with and take a moment to find a place along the bank to bath recite prayers.
They are focused and blind to the fact that anyone could be staring at them. Blind to the fact that I am so in awe of their steadfast devotion to a faith that engages them so fully in respecting those around them and the location.
No one is raising their voice, no one is shouting or jostling for position, no pushing or shoving, as is typical in a country where impatience is the norm and the procedure of queuing is lost on the masses.
At 3am we filmed the 'Naga Sadhus', where the warriors and defenders of the Hindu faith throw themselves into the Ganges naked!!They did it now like they've been doing it for thousands of years …with a smile! And a roar!
It is a happy time but with a serene quality. As the orange sun starts to rise and break though the mist, its lukewarm rays hit us all. It is just above freezing and the reality is that these devotees have been bathing in near freezing water without a whimper. They have popped in and out of the water smiling, rejuvenated and with a seemingly fresh purpose in life.