Diego Buñuel joins an estimated 100 million people at the Kumbh Mela festival - the largest single gathering of human beings in the history of the planet.
A world record 30 million people are estimated to have taken a dip in the Ganges on the biggest bathing day on February 10th 2013. That’s equivalent to the populations of London, New York and Tokyo city combined.
This Kumbh Mela is a 55 day festival. It is held every 12 years in Allahabad in Northern India.
The festival is held when the sun, moon and Jupiter are in a specific zodiacal position. Pilgrims believe that bathing at this special time is holy, and cleanses the soul.
For Hindus, the river Ganges is sacred and thought to be a living goddess.
The Ganges supports some 300 million people that live on its fertile delta.
The Sangam is where three rivers meet, the Ganges, Yamuna and the mystical river of enlightenment called the Saraswati. This is the exact place where a drop of the “nectar of immortality” is believed to have fallen during a fight between the gods and demons. This site is the most sacred place for Hindus to bathe during the Kumbh Mela.
There are over 5 million holymen called sadhus in India. They dedicate their lives to their religion and have renounced all material life.
Diego Buñuel witnesses some of the most extreme acts of religious devotion imaginable by ascetics: One demonstrates he can pull a 1 tonne car with his penis; another claims he hasn’t sat down for ten years. Diego meets one sadhu who has held his arm in the air for the last forty without ever cutting his nails.
One Hindu holy man who wants to bury himself in a 10 foot closed pit and meditate for nine days, is stopped by the festival police. Instead he decides to hang 17 kilograms of weights from his penis.
Diego got access to a secret ritual initiation ceremony involving thousands of young and old men about to become Naga sadhus. New initiates have to give up all their worldly possessions and contact with their families. They also abandon their clothes, except for loin cloths and shave their heads. By the end of the Kumbh Mela as many as ten thousand initiates are due to be ordained.
The Kumbh Mela is a mass gathering of Hindus from across India and around the world in a place where the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers converge in Allahabad, India, called the sangam.
Astrology determines most aspects of the festival, including its exact date and length. Where the festival is held also depends on the position of Jupiter, the sun and earth.
This year, the Maha Kumbh Mela will last 55 days, starting on January 14th and ending on March 10th.
The festival has been held on the banks of the Ganges for thousands of years.
There are different kinds of kumbh: an ardh (or half) kumbh is held every six years at two set locations; a purna (full) kumbh is held at Allahabad every 12 years.
A Maha Kumbh Mela happens once every 144 years.
The Kumbh Mela is at its largest once every 12 years in Allahabad when it attracts tens of millions of people and its spiritual impact is believed to be strongest.
More than 100 million people are expected to attend the 2013 55-day festival.
In 2013, the number of attendees at the Kumbh Mela are estimated to be thirty times larger than that of the annual Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
In 2001, nearly 70 million flocked to the Ganges’ shores of the Ganges.for the Purna Kumbh Mela.
To accommodate the millions of pilgrims, more than 35,000 toilets have been installed, 14 temporary hospitals have been built, 243 doctors have been employed and 30,000 police have been hired for security and crowd control.
The origin of the Kumbh Mela religious festival comes from a legend describing a war between gods and demons over possession of the elixir of eternal life or the “nectar of immortality.”
It is believed that a few drops of this elixir fell to earth at four places during various these battles. These four places are where the rivers are believed to possess mystical powers.
Because the gods and demons battled back and forth for twelve days and twelve “days” for the gods are equivalent to 12 years for humans, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated once every 12 years in each of these four places
According to the legend the “kumbh” was the container that held “the immortal nectar” of the gods.
In the film, Diego becomes an apprentice to a sadhu and learns to cook, smoke and dance with the holy men.
The Kumbh Mela has been dubbed a ‘pop up megacity’. The festival site is built in just a few months. Over one hundred and fifty kilometres (over 90 miles) of road, five hundred kilometres (over 300 miles) of water pipeline and seven hundred kilometres (over 400 miles) of electric cabling are laid especially for the event. Eighteen temporary pontoons are also been built to allow the millions to cross the Ganges, an awesome feat of engineering.
To prevent diseases like cholera some forty thousand toilets have been built.
The temporary festival site is built on the banks of the Ganges. The site is 20 square kilometres, and is so large, it can be seen from space.
25,000 police men have employed to look after safety and security at the Kumbh Mela.
In order to make the documentary, Diego Buñuel spent 3 weeks living in a tent at the Kumbh Mela festival. The production team out on location included a camera team of five people, 5 fixer and translators, plus an editing team of four who cut the film out in the field.
Initiates have their heads shaved and renounce all material wealth, marriage and sexual desire.
Some of the Hindu holy men traditionally wear orange which in a way symbolises the sacrificial fire that has “burnt away” their earthly desires.
Some of the sadhus often live as recluses in the mountains and descend to Sangam in Allahabad, India as spiritual pilgrims for the Kumbh Mela.
Naga sadhus cover their bodies in ash giving them a grey ghost-like appearance.