Kumbh Mela, also known as the Maha Kumbh Mela, is a mass hindu pilgrimage gathering which sees hundreds and thousands of devotees from all over India and worldwide. It is known to be the world’s largest peace gathering. Kumbh Mela is held every three years at one of these four locations in India: Nasik, Ujjain, Haridwar, and Allahabad (Prayag). Believers gather at these places to offer their prayers and bathe in the holy rivers.
The word “Kumbh” means pot. As per Hindu mythology, it is believed that in an agreement between demons and demigods an attempt was made to churn out immortal nectar from the river. The hunger of power made them breach the agreement and fight for the immortal nectar which went on for 12 days and 2 nights (12 human years). During the struggle, few drops of the nectar fell at each of these places. Since then, it is said that whoever attends this religious gathering and bathes in the sacred river in one of these four places during Kumbh rids himself of all sins and leads a happy and blessed life.
Given the three year cycle, Kumbh Mela happens at one place only after a period of 12 years, however, Ardh Kumbh Mela (half Kumbh Mela) takes place every six years in only two of the four locations: Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag).
Unlike many others, there are no fixed dates for the beginning of the fair. The dates totally depend upon the astrological positioning of the sun, the moon, and Jupiter.
- The Holy Bath: The bathing ceremony in the sacred rivers is considered the most important highlight of Kumbh Mela. Over the years, Kumbh Mela has attained an international fame which has increased the number of tourists who come not only to attend the fair but also to witness the largest peace gathering on the face of earth. Devouts believe that a dip or bath in the sacred water not only rids them of their sins but also of all evils of their current and past lives. It is also believed that the bath helps them attain moksha (salvation).
- The Yogis and Sadhus: Another major highlight of Kumbh Mela is the groups of Sadhus (saints) and Yogis who are said to appear from the caves of Himalaya only during Kumbh Mela, to spread religious teachings and bestow their blessing upon the devotees and attendees of the fair. Surprisingly, there are not just one but many groups of sadhus – Nagas, Urdhwavahurs, Parivrajakas, Shirshasinse, and Kalpavasis. Each of the groups of sadhus have distinctive features and attributes which differentiate them from one another. For example, Parivrajakas are known to have taken a vow of silence, Shirshasinse can be seen standing at all times and sleeping with their heads resting on a pole or wall, and the most prominent of all – Nagas. Nagas are naked sadhus who cover their body with ash, have long dreadlocks or matted hair, and have blood-shot eyes which are a result of smoking pot. They spend most of the day preaching and extending spiritual enlightenment, however as the sun comes up they all walk almost in a procession towards the river banks to take a bath. The groups are mostly led by the Naga Sadhus.
- Maha Kumbh Mela: Though as per astrological positioning of the sun, the moon, and Jupiter, Kumbh Mela takes places in one of the four locations every three years, but every 144 years there is Maha Kumbh Mela which takes place only in Allahabad . The gathering takes place at Prayag where the three holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati converge. It is also said that every hindu must take a bath here once during their lifetime for the ultimate attainment of salvation.
Events inside the festival:
Kumbh Mela is a prolonged festival or fair which runs for over a month. There are no specific event schedules or program itinerary but the bathing ceremony has been a constant from the beginning of time. Apart from the bathing ceremony and spiritual teachings of the Sadhus and Yogis, there is very less to be of importance. Occasionally, religious and political leaders are seen speaking at the festival. Also, you can witness the different akharas (podiums or campsites) of Sadhus which are divided from one another depending upon the gods they follow or believe in, like Rama, Shiva, etc. What’s more interesting than the spiritual teachings of the Sadhus is to be able to visit their campsite. Many international tourists and photographers attend the festival purely to see these Sadhus who live a life if complete solitude, and only become socially present during the Kumbh Mela. Also, if not preaching the sadhus are most likely be found smoking pot. It’s always a good idea to know which sadhu campsites are open for public before deciding to pay a visit.
History and Trivia:
- Story behind the emergence of Kumbh Mela: As per Hindu mythology, the demigods were cursed by Durvasa Muni, a very powerful Sadhu, to lose all their powers and auspiciousness. As a result of this, demons were gaining power over the demigods in all three worlds. Completely bereft, the demigods consulted with Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma, who further directed them to the highest power Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu suggested the demigods to fake an agreement with the demons, and churn the ocean of milk. Amongst many other things, the churning gave out a pot (kumbh) of immortal nectar also known as Amrit. As planned, the demons and demigods were to share Amrit however the ultimate temptation of power led them to fight against each other for 12 days and 12 nights (12 human years). During the fight few drops of this immortal nectar fell on four places on earth – Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain, and Nasik. Since then it is believed that when the astrological positions are right, the sacred rivers flowing in each of these places turn into rivers full of Amrit, and whoever bathes in the rivers during the Kumbh Mela, he/she is freed from all evils.
- History of Kumbh Mela: Though its very hard to tell when it all began, but the earliest written traces of the Kumbh Mela dates back to 629-645 CE, and are found in the accounts of a Chinese monk, Xuanzang, who visited India during that period. On the contrary, some people also believe that the mention of this fair or auspicious gathering can be found in one of the oldest Puranas(holy book) – the Bhagavata Purana.
- Dates of Kumbh Mela: Ideally, Kumbh Mela takes place once every three years at each of the four locations simultaneously. However again, its all about the exact or the best possible date declared by top astrologers over the country. This, at times, leads the fair to take place within a year’s gap. The Kumbh Mela that takes place in Allahabad once in 144 years is known as the Maha Kumbh Mela. Also, every consecutive six years a half Kumbh Mela, also known as Ardh Kumbh Mela is organized at Haridwar and Allahabad. The last Maha Kumbh Mela to have taken place was in 2013.
- Kumbh Mela Stampedes: The auspicious occasion of Kumbh Mela has not only witnessed thousands being blessed by the sacred waters and mysterious Sadhus but also thousands being killed and injured in stampedes. There has been two stampedes till date – in 1954 and in 2013. Unfortunately, the location for the stampedes was Allahabad. In 1954, the stampede happened on 3rd February, which also was the day of Mauni Amavasya – the most auspicious day for bathing. It also happened to be the first Kumbh Mela to have taken place post the independence of India. Though the statistics are unclear and vary significantly, it is believed more than 500 were dead and drowned while many others were injured or missing. The second stamped took place on 10th February, 2013. It was coincidentally also the year of Maha Kumbh mela. 36 were killed whereas 39 were injured. Other stampedes include one at Nasik in 2003 which killed 39 people, and another one at Haridwar in 2010 which killed seven.