As the Maha Kumbh Mela nears its second ritual-bathing on Sunday, lakhs of pilgrims known as Kalpwasis - who spend the month of Magh each year living a minimalistic life on the holy confluence, are flocking to the mela.
The Kaplwas- the period of their austerity, commences on Sunday with the festival of Paush Purnima. An estimated 20 lakh Kalpwasis are expected to stay at the mela.
The Kalpwasis believe that spending a whole month at the Sangam, living in flimsy tents and listening to discourses, giving alms, eating only once a day and performing ritual baths daily free them of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (moksha), and karma.
According to tradition, after observing 12 Kalpwas, a Kalpwasi has to donate all of his/her bed belongings under a ritual known as "Shayya Daan".
A recent study, funded by UK-based Economic & Social Research Council and conducted by experts of five universities, including Allahabad University, has found that the Kalpwasis return home healthier and happier after their stay at the Sangam. A sample of 543 respondents was reviewed on parameters of health and noise over the last four Magh Melas (annual fairs) at Allahabad.
The study, the findings of which were also published in the prestigious international journal PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science), states that despite the tough living conditions the cohesive bond between the fellow Kalpwasis helps make their stay comfortable.
The study takes note of the intensely crowded, noisy – competing loudspeakers blast out distorted sounds day and night - and polluted Mela - only basic waste disposal facilities and sanitation are available for pilgrims, who also have to bear the inclement weather during winter.
Meanwhile, the city saw a new rush of pilgrims on Friday for the upcoming Paush Purnima snan (January 27) and the Mauni Amavasya shahi snan (February 10). An estimated 4 crore pilgrims are expected to bathe on Mauni Amavasya.