Kumbh Mela (Devanagari: कुम्भ मेला) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage. It occurs four times every twelve years and rotates among four locations: Allahabad (Prayag) at the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna and mythical Sarasvati river, Haridwar along Ganga river, Ujjain along the Kshipra river and Nashik along the Godavari river, so a Kumbh Mela is practically held every three years across the four locations.
The Ardh Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, while the Purna (complete) Kumbh always takes place at Allahabad every twelve years.1 Over 45 days beginning in January 2007, more than 70 million Hindu pilgrims took part in the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, and on January 15, the most auspicious day of the festival of Makar Sankranti, more than 5 million participated.
The Maha Kumbh Mela ('Great' Kumbh Mela) which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas' which is after every 144 years is also held at Allahabad. The 2001, Maha Kumbh Mela was attended by around 60 million people, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world
According to Indian astrology, it is celebrated when the planet of Brihaspati (Jupiter) moves into the zodiac sign of Aquarius or Kumbha. Each sites celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter.
Kumbha is a Sanskrit word for Pitcher, sometimes referred as the Kalasha, it also a zodiac sign in Indian astrology for Aquarius, the sign under which the festival is celebrated, while Mela means 'a gathering' or 'a meet', or simply a fair.
The observance of Kumbh Mela dates back many centuries in Ancient India, to the Vedic period, where the river festivals first started getting organised. In Hindu mythology, its origin is found the one of the popular creation myths and the Hindu theories on evolution, the Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), which finds mention in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The Gods had lost their strength, and to regain it, they thought of churning the Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) for amrit (the nectar of immortality), this required them to make a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the demons or Asuras to work together, with a promise of sharing the nectar equally thereafter. However, when the Kumbha (urn) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years) the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, the celestial bird, Garuda the vehicle of Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha of elixir, and that is when drops of amrita fell at four places on earth: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, and that is where the Kumbh Mela is observed every twelve years.
First written evidence of the Kumbha Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 - 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar, which lead to the rapid improvement of arrangement by the authorities and the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society, and in 1903 about 400,000 people attended the fair. During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Allahabad, around 500 people were killed, and scores were injured. Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on April 14, 1998.
The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over 10 million pilgrims visiting Allahabad, to take a dip in the holy river, Ganga. Around 1 million people from around the world participated in the 'Maha Kumbh Mela' at Prayag (Allahabad) in 2001, with with planetary positions that repeat only once in 114 years.
Kumbh Mela is attended by millions of people on a single day. The major event of the festival is a ritual bath at the banks of the rivers in each town. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardized.
Kumbh Mela (especially the Maha Kumbh Mela) is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women (monks, saints and sadhus) attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with plenty of ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some called nanga sanyasis or 'Digambars (sky-clad)' may often be seen without any clothes even in severe winter, generally considered to live an extreme lifestyle. This tends to attract a lot of western attention as it is seemingly in contrast to a generally conservative social modesty practised in the country.
After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:
It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.2
Recent Kumbh Melas
According to Paramahansa Yogananda in his work the Autobiography of a Yogi, it was on the Kumbha Mela in January 1894 at Allahabad that his Guru Sri Yukteswar met Mahavatar Babaji for the first time.3
When the Kumbh Mela was held in Nashik, India, from July 27 to September 7, 2003, 39 pilgrims (28 women and 11 men) were trampled to death and 57 were injured (keeping in mind that the number of devotees attending the fair was around 70 million). Devotees had gathered on the banks of the Godavari river for the maha snaan or holy bath. Over 30,000 pilgrims were being held back by barricades in a narrow street leading to the Ramkund, a holy spot, so the sadhus could take the first ceremonial bath. Reportedly, a sadhu threw some silver coins into the crowd and the subsequent scramble led to the stampede.
Every six years there is an Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag (also known as Allahabad). The actual dates are dependent on stellar constellations and were announced as below:
Important bathing dates
- 3 Jan (Paush Purnima)
- 14 Jan (Makar Sankranti)
- 19 Jan (Mauni Amavasya)
- 23 Jan (Basant Panchami)
- 2 Feb (Magh Purnima)
Upcoming Kumbh Mela
Haridwar Ardha Kumbh Mela 2010 (March-April)
* Haridwar (the gateway to God) will host the Ardha Kumbha mela in the year 2010
* Allahabad (Prayag) Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 (January 27th to February 25th)
* The Maha Kumbha Mela will again be held at Allahabad (Prayag) in the year 2013.
* Nasik Maha Kumbh Mela 2015 (August 15th to September 13th)
* Nasik will host the Maha Kumbha Mela in 2015
* Ujjan Maha Kumbh Mela 2016 (April 22nd to May 21st)
Further reading on the Subject
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