Greatest Show on Earth

The Kumbh Mela has been called the world’s largest act of faith and the greatest show on earth.


Allahabad, 2001

Millions of pilgrims, sadhus and saints, politicians, and tourists arrive on foot, in private jets and helicopters, by taxi, horses, cars, and bikes to the largest gathering on the planet.


Allahabad, 2001

Pilgrims believe that bathing in the river will cleanse them of their sins.  Many shave their heads, so there are thousands of barbers to help them for a few rupees.


Allahabad, 2001

While visiting India, Mark Twain remarked that, “Pilgrims plodded for months in heat to get here, worn, poor and hungry, but sustained by unwavering faith.”


Allahabad, 2001


Haridwar, India, 1998

I  will be leading an expedition to the Kumbh Mela Festival from March 4 – 16, 2009.  The main attraction of this workshop and expedition is the Kumbh Mela festival.   We will be focusing on the images that participants take every day and I will help participants to put together a Mela portfolio. Over the course of the days in Haridwar we will witness the auspicious bathing day where people will travel from all over India via trains, buses and road to bathe in the Ganges.   This trip is almost sold out.  For information please contact


Allahabad, 2001

The Mela will be filled with all sorts of interesting characters: Sadhus, naked Babas who use the sky as their garment, animated beggars, street performers, people from every caste and sub caste of India. Old and young people all attend, and some very old people attend who are hoping to die while they attend the Mela so they can be cremated right there on the Ganges.


Ujjain, India


Steve McCurry and Sadhu in Allahabad, 2001

26 Responses to “Greatest Show on Earth”

  1. Harvey Chaimowitz Says:

    You said on NPR you have no Kodachrome. I have seven rolls of 35mm color film, some Kodak, some Fuji. I don’t want them and I would like you to have them free of charge if you want them. I live on 90th and Third in Manhattan. You could send somebody if you want. I won’t be using film and will throw them away if no one wants them. I also have a roll of 110.

  2. syafi'udin Says:

    Hi Steve.. I like your project in photograph. I hope, I can learn photography through a pattern of your perspective on photography. thx..

  3. Amazing spectacle!

  4. Michelle Says:

    Hi Steve well im a fan of yours and have been for a while now im actually on my first year with my diploma of photography boy im learning so much. I have been looking at most of your photos that you had taken in Paupa New Guinea. Wow amazing work you have beauilful moments and lots of time waiting just for the right picture:) I cant wait to ge there myself next year 2011 it will be a blast, well hope lifes treating you and your camera much happyness peace to you:)

  5. ps: and of course…
    thanks for showing us the beauty hidden in the world…

  6. Hi!
    I just discover you ’cause in Milan they’s a show of your works… Waw. My bf says “God kissed that man” and I agree!😀
    Just compliment… I’ll use your photos to learn to paint
    (I’m an art student/fighter).

  7. This is exactly the kind of workshop that I was looking for. However, I am personally not too keen on the Delhi segment. Is there an alternative?

  8. Great work! I am fascinating by India and Nepal. Your job as well that I felt there. Thank you

  9. Steve, very poetic images. The way you composed the subjects and their surroundings admires me…thanks for sharing them with us…

  10. These are so spiritual and religious. Some people are so shamanic and prehistoric images on their faces.

  11. Steve, your images tell great stories and your words give knowledge. Thank you! The Kumbh Mela seemed like an amazing experience. I Love, love, love the boy in blue and the sitting man, in Ujjain. It looks he is smiling, but it is hard to know for sure.

  12. Jeff Donovan Says:

    Since the Mela goes on for months in your opinion what is the best time/dates to attend the Mela?


  13. great pictures!
    I’ve been fascinated with the Kumbh Mela Festival since watching a very good documentary on National Geographic Channel some time ago, and would love to enroll in the workshop, too bad i can’t afford it right now…perhaps in a year or so…it truly looks like a great experience.

    p.s. Steve, congratulations on being awarded the Ambrogino D’Oro, I just found out about it, and watched the video on YouTube. Congratulations!!!

    • Many thanks for reading my blog. Getting the award in Milan was a big honor. It’s one of my favorite cities. I will be having a big exhibition there in November, so will be going back in a month.

  14. Hi Steve,

    Did you mean for the workshop to be in 2010, or is this a repeat of a previous post?



  15. siva prabu Says:

    wow awesome! i would like to be part of that workshop but i dont think i can afford it [:(]…..may be you could share few things about the workshop later…

    with regards

  16. Stunning images, especially the bridges shot. Wish I could afford the workshop-it must be a fantastic place to be.

  17. Wow what a coincidence – over the last few days I have been planning a trip to the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar but in January and/or possibly April as it goes on for a few months. These images were therefore certainly a nice surprise.

    How I wish I could make your workshop!

  18. Overwhelming pictures. Truly stunning. Particularly the one of the child posing as Lord Shiva and the shot of the bridges that go on for ages.

  19. […] Greatest Show on Earth « Steve McCurry's Blog […]

  20. Hi Steve,

    Being from Allahabad, I can feel smell of air and cold weather through your photographs. That is the great of photography.:)

    After every 12 years there is a “Maha Kumbh Mela” (Full Kumbh Mela). Among all 4 locations of Kumbh Mela, earliest approaching will be at Allahabad in year 2013.

    There is no point saying that I like all of your photographs (Because I always do), but like the one of pontoon bridge, I am not sure from which place you shot this. Also the last one (You with Sadhu); both are sitting in same posture, both carrying defining instrument, both wearing typical outfit and both are bald😉 .


  21. Hi…

    I have been a fan of your works for a very long time now.

    Just a minor correction in the discription of one of the photographs…The boy in blue is dressed as Lord Shiva.


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