Kumbh Mela, the path to the faith of the living dead.

Every twelve-year cycle from all corners of India millions of pilgrims flock to Prayagraj for this fundamental event of Hinduism. It is the largest pilgrimage on the planet, the largest human congregation in history.

Although Kumbh Mela is celebrated every four years in four different cities that have in common being in four different points of the Ganges River, Prayagraj is the most important place for this celebration as it gathers the largest number of pilgrims and Saints who for 55 days attend different celebrations linked to astronomical and astrological events. Many will only go to immerse themselves in these sacred waters to purify their souls and others will immerse themselves to renounce their earthly life forever.

The most important event is “Shahi Snan” (the Ceremonial Bath), in which for centuries Sadhus, Nagas and Babas bathe in the converging waters of the Ganges River, Yamuna River and the invisible and mythical Saraswati River, to cleanse their sins and attain “Moksha” or salvation from the cycle of life and death.

In the Hindu view the soul is born again because of their karmic deeds, so these waters converted into “Amrita” free them and their previous generations from the cycles of rebirth and make them immortal.

According to Hindu mythology, at the creation of the Universe, the Gods and Demons allied to brew “Amrita” (The Nectar of Immortality), however, the demons stole it.

Gods and Demons fought for twelve days and twelve nights, the equivalent of twelve human years to possess the “Kumbh” (the pitcher containing the “Amrita”).

contained the “Amrita”. In the struggle to possess it, drops of “Amrita” were spilled in four different places: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayagraj), Nasik and Ujjain, cities where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated today.

The Naked Saints, NAGAS SADHUS, with their bodies smeared with “VIBHUTI” (Holy Ash) and adorned with flowers, lead the processions of the thirteen “Akharas” monastic orders to which they belong. They have preference over the common people and so, at four o’clock in the morning they perform this act of great faith and devotion which has a mythological significance, and which makes it an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

This procession which is determined astrologically when Jupiter enters the constellation of Aquarius culminates with the special moment for the ritual bath, as in this unique constellation the waters become the Nectar of Immortality.

The Nagas Sadhus (Shiva Warriors) are the first to immerse, they have the honour of bathing first, two by two and holding hands. Some carry their tridents and swords, all carry “Rudrakhs”, their sacred rosaries. This is the most important moment of the Kumbh Mela, Sages, Saints and Yogis meet and interact, some pray, some meditate, some transform, some become immortal, some others will be initiated as Naga Sadhu from this sacred bath and will consider themselves dead, only their souls will live on.

After the last sacred bath, when the Kumbh Mela is over, they will go back to their caves, to the forests in the Himalayan Mountains, away from society and will not all meet again for another twelve years, all again at the Maha Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj.

The “Naga Sadhus”, “Naked Saints”, “Living Dead” are almost fictional beings, they spend their lives meditating, smoking hashish or marijuana to avoid the distraction of the world.

They live naked regardless of the temperatures they are exposed to because the first step to renunciation of worldly affairs is to shed their clothes.

They are Hindu ascetics or monks who have taken vows of chastity, follow the path of penance and austerity to reach enlightenment and ultimate truth.

From the moment of his initiation a Naga Sadhu will consecrate his existence to the worship of Shiva and to perfecting himself as an ascetic warrior, he will renounce all ties that bind him to material or earthly life to devote himself entirely to the practice of yoga, meditation and fasting as well as to penance, in some cases extreme penance.

Some of them were handed over by their parents to a “Guru”, others decided on their own to leave the material world by divesting themselves of everything they had including family, possessions and documents and holding their own funeral.

The Indian state recognises the legal but not physical death of Sadhus and no longer considers them as citizens but recognises them as Saints “A MAN HAS DIED AND A SADHU HAS BEEN BORN”.

There are four million Sadhus, all of them sincerely humbly seeking Enlightenment and spiritual Immortality. Rarely seen in public, it is a little-known world that hopefully will be preserved despite modernity.


The practice of yoga is a way of life, but it is not considered austerity until the postures are extreme and held for hours at a time.

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist, is a former Asia-Pacific representative to the United Nations who has managed to accommodate the transgender community among the religious elite. People look up to her, kneel at her feet and ask for her blessing during India’s most important religious event.

Naga Sadhu smearing Vibhuti (Sacred Ash) on his body before the sacred bath.

Nada Sadhu with his long dreadlocks tucked into his overalls called JATA. The long Jatas express a spiritual meaning, a special relationship with Shiva and signify being a spiritual traveller between two worlds. They will only let their dreadlocks down on special occasions and rituals.

Rudraksha means the tears of Shiva. It is a sacred seed of the ‘Evergreen’ tree found in the Himalayas which helps them to meditate and heal. A Mala (rosary) is typically made of 108 seeds, and one more called Bindu. Mythology has it that Shiva, after a long period of meditation awoke weeping in sorrow for mankind, shed his tears and from those nations a seed to become the Rudraksha tree.

Sadhu smoking a mixture of hashish and tobacco in a clay pipe called Chillum. The consumption of hashish is part of their faith. Smoking is also considered as an act of austerity which shows that there is no attachment towards the body.

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