One day, while studying for a photojournalist, I came across a small orange book with a trident on the cover. Under the cover was the name of the author and the title: “Kumbh Mela in Ujjain”. Photos in the book with the author’s comments were like reporting from another planet. So I discovered about Kumbh Mela — a spiritual festival that takes place in India every few years in one of the four holy cities. Two years later, I got on Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj city in the camp of Avahan Akhara, one of the ancient spiritual orders of India.

Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering of people on the planet — up to one hundred million pilgrims visit the festival in a month. Kumbh Mela is an opportunity to see the sacred and mysterious side of India, which is usually safely hidden from prying eyes. Saints, hermits, yogis, ascetics of all stripes, scattered in the “peace time” in the Indian forests, caves and ashrams, flock to the festival in huge numbers. Sadhu camps — as the hermits who devote their lives to spiritual practice are called in India — are spread out over a vast territory at the confluence of the sacred rivers of the Ganga, Yamuna and underground Saraswati. In a short time, a huge fairytale city arose in the desert, on the dusty streets of which you can see many wonders. Here, monks riding camels, accompanied by drummers, enter the gates of a huge castle, and on the other side of the road an elephant gracefully steps out of a cloud of dust. The unceasing buzz of rickshaws merges in unison with the vibration of mantras spread everywhere, and an ocean of people in orange robes symbolizing renunciation surges up to the horizon.

© Vladimir Kolmakov