All along the Ganga, India’s most sacred river, people offer little leaf boats like this filled with flowers, burning camphor and incense. Today is Mahashivaratri, one of the great festivals of India, which draws immense crowds to holy rivers and temples. Mahashivaratri celebrates the marriage of Shiva with Parvati. The spiritual significance of this is the union of purusha and prakriti, silence and dynamism.
The Kumbha Mela that is currently going on in Haridwar saw crowds well in excess of a million people today (maybe several million, but no one really knows). The Kumbha Mela takes place every twelve years in four holy cities of India by rotation (i.e., every three years)—Haridwar, Allahabad, Nasik and Ujjain. This year, Haridwar is having it’s mela (festival); the last one was in 1998. In 2001, the mela at Allahabad, which is typically the largest, saw the largest gathering of people in history. However, as transportation becomes easier, more and more people are coming to each mela, so even more people are expected during the three and a half months of this mela. Haridwar is more closed in than Allahabad, though, so the crowds are much more intense. In Allahabad, you can take a boat out into the river, but in Haridwar, you have to go on the shore. It’s so crowded on the major days that it’s hard to move at all. Cars were not allowed to enter the city today because of the crowds.
Saints and sadhus of all descriptions come from all over India for the Kumbha Mela. There are some who never leave their remote caves and hermitages for any other reason—and others who wander all over or even hang out in places like Rishikesh. This sadhu is clearly one of the more sociable ones.