Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 9, 2018

The Mahā Kumbh Melā in Allahabad 2013

Hindu Renouncers between Mundaneness and the Extramundane

Cora Gäbel EMAIL logo

Abstract

The following article deals with the Mahā Kumbh Melā1 in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh, northern India) and the practices of Hindu world renouncers2 during this festival. In 2013, the year under study, approximately 120 million renouncers and lay pilgrims attended the festival. After a brief overview of the academic discussion on Hindu renunciation, the article proceeds to outline the mythology, history, and meaning of the Kumbh Melā. Subsequently, it presents the festival from the renouncers’ point of view. This section of the article summarizes the functions of the festival, describes two particular forms of meals (bhaṇḍārās and annakṣetras), and outlines the daily routine of the participants. Finally, the article discusses the inner-worldly asceticism of lay pilgrims, the main participants, as well as the ritual bathing during the festival, a crucial part of the Kumbh Melā for all participants.

Acknowledgments

I am profoundly grateful to my interlocutors, who are named in this article. Particularly, I would like to thank Nāmītā Girī and Nārad-jī. I sincerely hope I have portrayed your thoughts, opinions, and actions in a true and accurate manner. I am thankful to Gaṅgā Dās for introducing me to several conversational partners, including Nārad-jī, and for always pampering me with too many Indian sweets, tea, and a warm, friendly smile. Sondra Hausner made invaluable comments and suggestions on a part of this article presented during the Religion as Resource workshop held at Tübingen University in July 2014. The five peer reviewers, Oliver Freiberger, Christoph Kleine, Bärbel Beinhauer-Köhler, Christel Gärtner, and Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler, assisted me in improving this article with their thoughtful feedback. Jack Llewellyn provided his unpublished manuscript on the Kumbh Melā in Haridvar. Last but not least I am forever grateful to Ajay “Piṅku-jī” Pāṇḍey, without whose patience, sympathy, and mild sternness in expanding and improving my command of Hindi only a minute part of my research would have been possible.

Bibliography

Babb, Lawrence A. 1975. The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India. New York: Columbia University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Babb, Lawrence A. 1981. “Glancing: Visual Interaction in Hinduism.” Journal of Anthropological Research 37 (4):387–401.10.1086/jar.37.4.3629835Search in Google Scholar

Basu, Helene. 2000. “Local Concepts of Women Ascetics: Living Goddesses of the Chāraṇ.” Journal of Social Sciences 4 (4):313–321.10.1080/09718923.2000.11892279Search in Google Scholar

Bhardwaj, Surinder M. and Gisbert Rinschede. 1988. “Pilgrimage – A World-Wide Phenomenon.” In Pilgrimage in World Religions, ed. Surinder M. Bhardwaj and Gisbert Rinschede, 11–19. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag.Search in Google Scholar

Bonazzoli, Giorgio. 2001. “Prayāga and its Kumbha Mela.” In Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, ed. D. P. Dubey, 85–123. Allahabad: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Brown, C. Mackenzie. 1982. “The Theology of Rādhā in the Purāṇas.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 57–71. Berkeley: Religious Studies Series.Search in Google Scholar

Bryant, M. Darrol. 2001. “River of Grace: The Kumbha Mela as a Sacred Place.” In Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, ed. D. P. Dubey, 50–61. Allahabad: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Burghart, Richard. 1983 a. “Renunciation in the Religious Traditions of South Asia.” Man 18 (4):635–653.10.2307/2801900Search in Google Scholar

Burghart, Richard. 1983 b. “Wandering Ascetics of the Rāmānandī Sect.” History of Religions 22 (4):361–380.10.1086/462930Search in Google Scholar

Caplan, Patricia. 1973. “Ascetics in Western Nepal.” Eastern Anthropologist 26 (2):173–182.Search in Google Scholar

Clark, Matthew. 2006. The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages Into an Order. Leiden/Boston: Brill. 10.1163/9789047410027Search in Google Scholar

Crawley, A. E. 1895. “Taboos of Commensality.” Folklore 6 (2):130–144.10.1080/0015587X.1895.9720292Search in Google Scholar

Daniel, E. Valentine. 1984. Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520342149Search in Google Scholar

DeNapoli, Antoinette Elizabeth. 2014. Real Sadhus Sing to God: Gender, Asceticism, and Vernacular Religion in Rajasthan. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199940011.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Denton, Lynn Teskey. 2004. Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.Search in Google Scholar

Dubey, D. P. 2001 a. “Kumbha Mela: Origin and Historicity of India’s Greatest Pilgrimage Fair.” In Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, ed. D. P. Dubey, 1–49. Allahabad: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Dubey, D. P. 2001 b. Prayāga: The Site of Kumbha Melā (In Temporal and Traditional Space). New Delhi: Aryan Books International.Search in Google Scholar

Dumont, Louis. [1966] 2010. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Durkheim, Émile. [1912] 2001. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Carol Cosman. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Eck, Diana L. 1985. Darśan: Seeing the Divine Light in India. Chambersburg: Anima Books.Search in Google Scholar

Eck, Diana L. [1983] 1993. Banaras: City of Light. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.Search in Google Scholar

Freiberger, Oliver. 2015 a. “Asceticism.” In Vocabulary for the Studey of Religion, ed. Robert A. Segal and Kocku von Stuckrad, Vol. 1, 126–129. Leiden/Boston: Brill.Search in Google Scholar

Freiberger, Oliver. 2015 b. “Askese als Begriff: Substanzielle, funktionale, und diskursive Perspektiven.” Berliner Theologische Zeitschrift 32 (1):11-33.Search in Google Scholar

Fuller, Christopher John. 1992. The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Geertz, Clifford. [1973] 2000. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Ghurye, G. S. [1953] 1964. Indian Sadhus. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.Search in Google Scholar

Gold, Ann Grodzins. 1988. Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.Search in Google Scholar

Gold, Ann Grodzins. 2006. “Afterword: Breaking Away ...” In Women’s Renunciation in South Asia: Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers, ed. Meena Khandelwal, Sondra L. Hausner, and Ann Grodzins Gold, 247–267. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1007/978-1-137-10485-4_10Search in Google Scholar

Gross, Robert Lewis. 1992. The Sādhus of India: A Study of Hindu Asceticism. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Gupta, S. L. 2001. “Kumbha Mela: An Interpretation.” In Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, ed. D. P. Dubey, 63–70. Allahabad: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Guzy, Lidia. 2000. ““On the Road with the Babas”: Some Insights into Local Features of Mahima Dharma.” Journal of Social Sciences 4 (4):323–330.10.1080/09718923.2000.11892280Search in Google Scholar

Hausner, Sondra L. 2007. Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hawley, John Stratton. 1982. “A Vernacular Portrait: Rādhā in the Sūr Sāgar.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 42–56. Berkeley: Religious Studies Series.Search in Google Scholar

Khandelwal, Meena. 2004. Women In Ochre Robes: Gendering Hindu Renunciation. Albany: State University of New York Press.Search in Google Scholar

Khare, R. S. 1976. The Hindu Hearth and Home. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.Search in Google Scholar

Kinsley, David R. [1986] 1997. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar

Krása, Miloslav. 2001. “Kumbha Mela: The Greatest Pilgrimage in the World.” In Kumbha Mela: Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair, ed. D. P. Dubey, 71–84. Allahabad: Society of Pilgrimage Studies.Search in Google Scholar

Lamb, Sarah. 2000. White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520935266Search in Google Scholar

Leslie, Julia. 1991. Religion, Gender and Dharma: The Case of the Widow-Ascetic. Leeds: British Association for the Study of Religions.Search in Google Scholar

Llewellyn, Jack E. 1998. The Legacy of Women’s Uplift in India: Contemporary Women Leaders in the Arya Samaj. New Delhi: Sage Publication.Search in Google Scholar

Llewellyn, Jack E. n.d. Festival of Discord: The 1998 Kumbh Mela in Hardwar.Search in Google Scholar

Lochtefeld, James G. 2010. God’s Gateway: Identity and Meaning in a Hindu Pilgrimage Place. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Luithle, Andrea. 2000. “Jaina-Asketinnen der Śvetambara-Tradition.” In Tradition im Wandel: Weibliche Religiosität im Hinduismus, Jainismus und Buddhismus, ed. Katharina Poggendorf-Kakar, Lidia Guzy, and Hartmut Zinser, 45–59. Tübingen: Medien Verlag Köhler.Search in Google Scholar

Luithle-Hardenberg, Andrea. 2011. Die Reise zum Ursprung: Die Pilgerschaft der Shvetambara-Jaina zum Berg Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, Indien. München: Manya Verlag.Search in Google Scholar

Maclean, Kama. 2008. Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765–1954. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195338942.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Michaels, Axel. 1998. Der Hinduismus: Geschichte und Gegenwart. München: C. H. Beck.Search in Google Scholar

Miller, Barbara Stoler. 1982. “The Divine Duality of Rādhā and Krishna.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 13–26. Berkeley: Religious Studies Series.Search in Google Scholar

Miller, David M. and Dorothy C. Wertz. [1976] 1996. Hindu Monastic Life: The Monks and Monasteries of Bhubaneswar. New Delhi: Manohar.Search in Google Scholar

Mines, Mattison. 1994. Public Faces, Private Voices: Community and Individuality in South India. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.10.1525/california/9780520084780.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Narayan, Kirin. 1989. Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.10.9783/9780812205831Search in Google Scholar

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. 1982. “The Shifting Balance of Power in the Marriage of Śiva and Pārvatī.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 129–143. Berkeley: Religious Studies Series.Search in Google Scholar

Olivelle, Patrick. 1995. “Deconstruction of the Body in Indian Asceticism.” In Asceticism, ed. Vincent L. Wimbush and Richard Valantasis, 188–210. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.7135/UPO9781843318026.008Search in Google Scholar

Olivelle, Patrick. 2003. “The Renouncer Tradition.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ed. Gavin Flood, 271–287. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.10.1002/9780470998694.ch13Search in Google Scholar

Olivelle, Patrick. 2006. “The Ascetic and the Domestic in Brahmanical Religiosity.” In Asceticism and Its Critics: Historical Accounts and Comparative Perspectives, ed. Oliver Freiberger, 25–42. New York: Oxford University Press.10.7135/UPO9781843318026.003Search in Google Scholar

Padoux, André. 2003. “Mantra.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ed. Gavin Flood, 478–492. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.10.1002/9780470998694.ch23Search in Google Scholar

Parry, Jonathan P. 1985. “The Aghori Ascetics of Benares.” In Indian Religion, ed. Richard Burghart and Audrey Cantlie, 51–78. London: Curzon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Parry, Jonathan P. [1994] 2011. Death in Banaras. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Phillimore, Peter. 2001. “Private Lives and Public Identities: An Example of Female Celibacy in Northwest India.” In Celibacy, Culture, and Society: The Anthropology of Sexual Abstinence, ed. Elisa J. Sobo and Sandra Bell, 29–46. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Search in Google Scholar

Pinch, William R. 2006. Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Rai, Subas. 1993. Kumbha Mela: History and Religion; Astronomy and Cosmobiology. Varanasi: Ganga Kaveri Publishing House.Search in Google Scholar

Reader, Ian. 2014. Pilgrimage in the Marketplace. New York/London: Routledge.10.4324/9781315885704Search in Google Scholar

Shāntā, N. 1997. The Unknown Pilgrims: The Voice of the Sādhvīs: The history, spirituality and life of the Jaina women ascetics, trans. Mary Rogers. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Sinclair-Brull, Wendy. 1997. Female Ascetics: Hierarchy and Purity in an Indian Religious Movement. Richmond: Curzon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sinha, Surajit and Baidyanath Saraswati. 1978. Ascetics of Kashi: An Anthropological Exploration. Varanasi: Bose Memorial Foundation.Search in Google Scholar

Stevenson, Margaret. [1920] 1971. The Rites of the Twice-Born. New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.Search in Google Scholar

Tambiah, S. J. 1982. “The renouncer: His individuality and his community.” In Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in honour of Louis Dumont, ed. T. N. Madan, 299–320. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.10.1177/006996678101500116Search in Google Scholar

Thapar, Romila. 1982. “The householder and the renouncer in the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions.” In Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in honour of Louis Dumont, ed. T. N. Madan, 273–298. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.10.1177/006996678101500115Search in Google Scholar

Tripathi, Bansi Dhar. 1978. Sadhus of India: The Sociological View. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.Search in Google Scholar

Vallely, Anne. 2006. “These Hands Are Not For Henna.” In Women’s Renunciation in South Asia: Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers, ed. Meena Khandelwal, Sondra L. Hausner, and Ann Grodzins Gold, 223–245. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.10.1007/978-1-137-10485-4_9Search in Google Scholar

van der Veer, Peter. 1988. Gods on Earth: The Management of Religious Experience and Identity in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. London: Athlone.Search in Google Scholar

van der Veer, Peter. 1989. “The Power of Detachment: Disciplines of Body and Mind in the Ramanandi Order.” American Ethnologist 16 (3):458–470.10.1525/ae.1989.16.3.02a00030Search in Google Scholar

Wadley, Susan Snow. 1995. “No Longer a Wife: Widows in Rural North India.” In From the Margins of Hindu Marriage: Essays on Gender, Religion, and Culture, ed. Lindsey Harlan and Paul B. Courtright, 92–118. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Weber, Max. [1920] 2006. Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus. München: C. H. Beck.Search in Google Scholar

Wulff, Donna Marie. 1982. “A Sanskrit Portrait: Rādhā in the Plays of Rūpa Gosvāmī.” In The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 27–41. Berkeley: Religious Studies Series.Search in Google Scholar

Wulff, Donna Marie. 1996. “Rādhā: Consort and Conquerer of Krishna.” In Devī: Goddesses of India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, 109–134. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520916296-009Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2018-4-9
Published in Print: 2018-3-26

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 30.11.2022 from frontend.live.degruyter.dgbricks.com/document/doi/10.1515/zfr-2017-0031/html
Scroll Up Arrow