Silke Bechler: Kumbh Mela 2010: A Quest for Immortality and Identity
It was often claimed that the Kumbh Mela is the world’s oldest and largest religious gathering, which is celebrated every third year in a different location – either in Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik or Ujjain – depending on astronomical considerations. In the course of the celebrations millions of people come together in order to take on an auspicious day a ritual bath in the Ganga in quest for immortality. In my paper I want to focus on the Kumbh Mela 2010, which was celebrated in Haridwar. I argue, that in times of globalization and modernization the celebrations massively changed. Whereas on the private level still religious aspects are in the focus, on the public level questions of identity and power come to the fore. The festival became a market place, where religion is increasingly commercialized and politicized. Religious leaders make use of traditional rituals (Vedic sacrifices, pilgrimages, etc.) to raise their own status. In order to gain global importance they started to incorporate “global problems” (environmental problems, global diseases, etc.) in their agenda.