Legend has it that a few drops of the elixir of life, or amrit, fell on my hometown some millennia ago. Since then, the town—now known as Nashik—has drawn huge gatherings of devotees. Every 12 years, the city hosts millions of people coming to bathe in the holy waters of the river Godavari.
The gathering is called the Kumbh Mela, attended by pilgrims of different castes and creeds, who come wearing wonderful clothes or nothing at all. The naga sadhus, or naked saints, are strict devotees of their Hindu gods, but have also become famous across India for breaking social norms in a conservative society.
This year, the stars and planets aligned on Aug. 29, making it the first royal bathing (shahi snan) day. Kumbh Mela’s naked saints jumped en masse into the river in search of the elixir of life. It’s a rare and wonderful spectacle, albeit one that I didn’t understand quite so well when I attended as a kid.
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