A peaceful gathering, when done right, is a harmonious thing. It has the power to bring people together for a common cause or purpose, and often leaves attendees feeling refreshed and inspired. Sometimes, of course, these events can have the opposite effect, causing people to mourn and reflect on their own lives.
Some of the biggest gatherings in the history of mankind have been due to a religious pilgrimage to a holy site of some sort, or have been to mourn the death of a great leader. Sometimes, unexpected rallies and parades sprout up out of nowhere, such as the first gathering on this list. At other times, millions of people congregating for a single cause is the result of expert organisation and a common goal.
Several large scale gatherings have taken place that are simply impossible to rank or count, and there are plenty of funerals and coronations and pilgrimages that have probably had more attendees than a few on this list (over 3 million people, which is a relatively common number for huge gatherings). Nonetheless, here, we've listed 10 of the biggest, most significant and most memorable peaceful gatherings in history.
10 Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series Victory Parade - Oct. 30, 2004, 3 million people
The 2004 world series was the 100th edition of the MLB championship series, pitting the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox, against the National League champs, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox won the best-of-seven series four games to none, between October 23-27, 2004. After being down three games to none in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees, the Red Sox came back to advance to the world series for the first time since 1989.
The Red Sox won the world series for the first time since 1918, ending the “Curse of the Bambino,” an 86-year old drought that was inflicted when Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919. The victory parade held on the following Saturday, October 30, was the largest gathering in the history of Boston, with an estimated 3 million attendees watching the team being transported through the city on 17 duck boats.
9 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II - June 2, 1953, 3 million people
Queen Elizabeth II became Queen after the death of her father, King George VI, on February 6, 1952. She was just 25 years old when she became monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. The coronation was delayed for more than a year because of the customary mourning period following the death of a preceding sovereign. The ceremony took 16 months of preparation.
The coronation of the Queen was the first to ever be televised, and was the world’s first major international event to be broadcast on TV. The procession passed before 3 million spectators in London before the crowning took place in Westminster Abbey. There were over 750 commentators broadcasting in 39 languages, with more than 20 million worldwide viewers. The procession included foreign royalty riding to Westminster Abbey from Buckingham Palace in various carriages. Elizabeth II now rules over 16 sovereign states, with the 2nd longest reign in British monarch history at over 62 years. Only her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, ruled longer.
8 2003 Anti-War Protest - February 15, 2003, Over 3 million people in Rome
The February 15, 2003 anti-war protest was a coordinated day of protests that took place in over 600 cities across the world, to express opposition to the imminent Iraq War. Social movement scholars have called the protest the “largest protest event in human history.” If all of the protestors combined were counted here, then between 6 and 30 million people rallied across 60 countries.
The largest protests, however, took place in Europe. The 2004 Guinness Book of World Records cites Rome’s rally as the largest anti-war rally in history, with over 3 million people taking to the streets. Madrid had over 1 and a half million participants. Mainland China was the only major region not to see any protests on February 15.
7 Funeral of Pope John Paul II - April 8, 2005, Approx. 4 million people
The funeral for Pope John Paul II was held six days after his death on April 2, 2005. Following the funeral was the Novemdiales, or the nine days of mourning. At the time, the funeral brought together the largest gathering of heads of state outside of the UN, with four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers, and over 14 leaders of other religions attending. It is one of the largest single gatherings of Christianity in history, with over 4 million mourners gathering in Rome.
In an unorthodox memorial Mass, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox leaders, as well as heads of Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, offered their own memorials as a way of sympathizing with the grief of Catholics. John Paul II was the second longest-serving pope in modern history, serving from October 1978 until 2005. He was also the first non-Italian pope since Dutch Pope Adrian VI who served way back in 1522! John Paul II is recognized as helping end Communist rule in his native Poland, and eventually all of Europe.
6 Funeral of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser - Oct. 1, 1970, Approx. 5 million people
Gamal Abdel Nasser was the 2nd president of Egypt, serving from 1956 until his death on September 28, 1970. He planned the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy, was deputy prime minister afterwards, and introduced far-reaching land reforms. After a 1954 attempt on his life by the Muslim Brotherhood, he cracked down on the organization, put President Muhammad Naguib under house arrest, and assumed executive office. Both the public and new constitution upheld his nomination for presidency in June, 1956.
During his tenure, he was a major figure in socialism, revolution, and change, embroiled in the Six-Day War, depoliticizing the military, and being forced back in to office by popular demand. He died of a heart attack, exacerbated by diabetes, heavy smoking, and a family history of heart disease. At least 5 million mourners attended his funeral procession (perhaps as many as 7 million). Jordanian King Hussein and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat cried openly, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya fainted twice from emotional distress. The country was in a state of shock at his sudden passing, as millions openly cried in the streets across the Arab world.
5 World Youth Day 1995 - January 15, 1995, Over 5 million people
World Youth Day 1995 was a Catholic youth festival in Manila, Philippines, taking place from January 10-15. It was the first time an Asian country hosted the event, and it was Pope John Paul II’s second official trip to the country. He presided over the event, and most of the spectators were there to see him specifically.
Youth pilgrims gathered from all over the world to worship together, talk as brothers and sisters, and learn of each other’s cultures. The closing Mass, held at Luneta Park, was attended by over 5 million people - the world record for the largest Papal gathering in Roman Catholic history. During this time, there was a planned assassination attempt on the Pope’s life by Ramzi Yousef, called the Bojinka Plot, but his plan was discovered four days earlier and he was forced to flee to Pakistan.
4 Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini - June 11, 1989, 5-10 million people
Ruhollah Khomeini, the Grand Ayatollah, was an Iranian politician and religious leader. He lead the 1979 Iranian Revolution, overthrowing the Shah of Iran, and afterwards became the country’s Supreme Leader. He was an author of over 40 books, spent 15 years in exile for his opposition to the last Shah, and is known for his religious mysticism and his political theory. He was named TIME’s Man of the Year in 1979 for his international influence.
After suffering from prostate cancer, Khomeini spent 11 days in the hospital before dying on June 3, 1989. Iranians poured into the streets to mourn his death. As many as 6 to 10 million people attended his funeral in Tehran on June 11, 1989. Because of the size of the crowd, eight people were trampled to death and 500 were injured during the procession. Hundreds of people tried to pull off pieces of his white shroud for holy relics, exposing the body of the Ayatollah in the open casket, and nearly causing his body to fall to the ground at one point. One-sixth of Iran’s population attended the funeral, setting a Guinness World record for the “largest percentage of population to attend a funeral.”
3 Funeral of C.N. Annadurai - February, 1969, 15 million people
C.N. Annadurai was a Chief Minister of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He was known for his oratory skills, his writing, his plays, and his politics. He was one of the first politicians to use Tamil cinema extensively for political propaganda. He went to prison multiple times after leading protests against the then-ruling Congress, helping him gain popular support for his party.
His party won a landslide victory in the 1967 state elections, but he died of cancer just two years into office, due to his chewing-tobacco habit. His funeral had the largest number of attendees up until then (and maybe still does), with the Guinness Book of Records estimating 15 million people attending.
2 Shrine of Husayn ibn Ali during Arba’een - 2013, 20-25 million people
Husayn ibn Ali is a very important figure in Islam, being the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He lived from 626 to 680. Arba’een is a Shia Muslim religious observance that commemorates his martyrdom, with the date for Arba’een falling on the 20th day of the month of Safar. Husayn and 72 companions were martyred and killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 (61AH). Arba’een, or Chehlum, is one of the largest pilgrimages on Earth.
Every year, millions of gatherers travel to Husayn ibn Ali’s shrine in Karbala, Iraq during Arba’een. This number has only risen as time has passed. If we were to take each individual year into account, Husayn ibn Ali’s shrine would take six out of 10 spots on this list. 10 to 14 million people visited on Arba’een in 2009 and 2010; 15 to 18 million visited in 2012 and January 2013. The largest crowd yet, however, would be the December 2013 Arba’een, where an enormous 20 to 25 million people visited Husayn ibn Ali’s shrine.
1 Kumbh Mela, Mauni Amavasya - Feb. 10, 2013, 30 million people
The largest peaceful gathering in the world takes place in India. Kumbh Mela is a massive Hindu pilgrimage of faith, where Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. Around 100-120 million people visited during Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 in Allahabad. It is held every third year at one of four places in rotation, with the Mauni Amavasya only happening once every 12 years in Allahabad.
On February 10, 2013, the biggest bathing day took place with over 30 million devotees taking the holy dip to rid them of their sins. The festival celebrates the victory of the gods over demons, in a battle for a nectar that would grant them immortality. The festival is sprawled over 2,000 hectares, with tent-cities, 35,000 toilets and thousands of streetlights being set up in preparation for the event. It is also cited as one of the biggest causes of pollution in the Ganges River.