How Does Burning Man Compare to Kumbh Mela?

Kumbh Mela “art car”. Photo by Chip Conley.

Chip Conley is (amongst other things) a successful hotelier, world-traveler, festival aficionado and Burning Man Project board member. He’s just returned from a five-week tour of Asia, during which he attended five different festivals. Lucky for us, one of the festivals he attended — along with 80 million other people — was the centuries-old Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest gathering of religious pilgrims, which takes place every three years in India.

So how does Kumbh Mela compare to Burning Man? Well, seeing distinct commonalities in the experiences, Chip penned a fascinating post comparing the two in his Fest300 blog. And we? We are the beneficiaries of his perspective.

Read Chip’s blog post here. While you’re there, be sure to poke around his other posts … they’re great.

Have you been to Kumbh Mela? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

11 Comments on “How Does Burning Man Compare to Kumbh Mela?

  • meredith says:

    greetings y’all,
    i too attended the maha kumbh mela this year (a once in 144 years event…only much smaller melas happen every three years) with my bman lenses on. a fifth-year (american) burner living in india, i find it challenging to NOT see comparisons both with daily life in india and bman and especially with kumbh. transient tent cities with wild crowds, free expression, sparkly lights, sounds (both becoming and unbecoming), smoke and dust permeate both events. there are major advantages to camping with a theme camp at both events, and generosity of spirit abounds in both environments. the crowd at kumbh was overwhelming on peak auspicious days, which made me ever-so grateful to be camping in a “theme camp” and reminded me of the many advantages I enjoy with my own camp, GPS, at the burn.

    …so many thoughts on this. glad to see another burner’s perspective on these epic events. will eventually post my own photos and thoughts on my own li’l travel blog at

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  • jules says:

    I think Kumbh Mela could learn a lot from Burning Man. I was at the festival this year and it was amazing. One thing they could learn from Burning Man is how to more fully exploit the attendees. There is so much money they could make from the festival, and Burning Man could really show them a thing or two.

    They could also try to sell the spirituality angle a bit more and also the social climbing aspect in order to secure free labor.

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  • Joey Jo Jo Junior Shabadoo says:

    Jules, you are the best. C.R.E.A.M. Burners are all tainted. That’s why am not going this year. Plus, I hear that next year is going to be WAY better.

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  • dirtwheel says:

    I’ve never been. A good visual on it is called ‘Short Cut to Nirvana’. Just happened upon it about three years ago one day. Wondering if the focus determines the type of gathering? Or is the simple act of gathering create a need for a focus? Is a focus even necessary? Long continuous gatherings always seem to gravitate towards creativity & spirituality.

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  • terry says:

    I’ve been to Kumbh Mela. I’d say it doesn’t compare in many ways. There are few if any egotistical assholes at Kumbh Mela. If you coped an attitude at Kumbh Mela, I think you would be laughed out of the festival. Burning Man is all about attitude, about appearing to be something or someone you’re not. It’s a masquerade vacation from your regular dreary life. You can pretend to be a really cool guy or chick at Burning Man – that’s what makes it great.

    At Kumbh Mela, these people are really cool guys and chicks in real life. Basically, it’s a lifestyle. Not a poseur fest.

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  • Dr. Pyro says:

    Unlike Burning Man, Kambh Mela looks like a lousy place to try and get a bacon double cheeseburger.

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  • @ Dr. Pyro

    Oh man, you said it!

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  • janbunny says:

    Kumbh Mela is seriously huge. I wouldn’t compare Burning Man to that festival. I think Burning Man would be better compared to the Mission District or downtown Oakland. The comparison is almost identical.

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  • Aditya Rathore says:

    Seasons Greetings to Everyone Here…

    Before making any comment on any subject about Kumbh Mela or Burning Man Festival, you should think twice for the facts.

    They can’t be compared in any way. Both are entirely different things.

    Burning Man: A place to express oneself. its all about Attitude!

    Kumbh Mela: as Dirtwheel said it’s a ‘Short Cut to Nirvana’.
    refer for more details….


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  • notaburner says:

    basically what i’m getting from these posts is that Burning Man sucks because it’s borne of Americana and Americana sucks because it’s mostly based in capitalism. so my question is whether or not Kumbh Mela sucks because of the caste system or if it sucks at all. when i hear about why festivals are totally rad and don’t suck, i’ll go to one. until then, drugs in my basement.

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  • raman kumar says:

    one should must take a bath in kumbha mela. as its a holy dip… which washes all of your sins….

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