Everything you need to know about the Kumbh Mela

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Samudra Mannthan or churning of the sea

What is Kumbh Mela?

The Kumbh Mela is a pilgrimage festival with very strong mythical and historical roots. It is internationally famous as earth’s largest gathering of human beings.

When is it celebrated?

The festival is celebrated every three years rotating between four locations in the Indian sub-continent completing a cycle every twelve years.

Why is it famous for?

It is estimated that millions of pilgrims visits this Mela. According to Guinness Book of Records, the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, where 80-100 million pilgrims visitation were estimated, was termed as the “greatest recorded number of human beings assembled with a common purpose”.

gathering of people during kumbh mela

Origin of Kumbh Mela

The belief system behind the mela is about a particular time when all the forces of creation were collected in one urn (kumbha) and the celebration (mela) which follows it.

The origin of the Mela dates back to the Vedic period which is reflected in the myth of Samudra manthan (churning of the ocean of milk).

The Kumbh Mela finds its mentions in the Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. making it one of the earliest mass gathering which is still persistent today.

people from all over the country coming to take a religious dip

The Myth behind the Festival

Myth says when Gods were losing their strength, they initiated Samudra mathan to regain the strength with a temporary agreement with the demons to work together. Both parties came up with an understanding that the outcome of the process the urn (kumbh) of nectar (amrit) will be shared equally.

A sip of this rare Nectar was enough to make a person immortal. However, when the urn or kumbh appeared, a battle broke between the gods and the demons that continued for twelve days and nights (twelve earth years).

Gods entrusted Jayanta, son of Indra, to keep the pitcher containing Nectar in his safe custody for the exclusive use of the gods. Jayanta had to run from place to place but he took rest at 12 places out of which 4 were on earth.

The four places on earth where he took rest and where a few drops of Nectar spilled over and made the place holy are Hardwar (Har Ki Pauri), Allahabad (Prayag), Nashik (Godavari Ghat) and Ujjain (Shipra Ghat). Since then Kumbh Melas have been taking place at one or the other of these four places.

devotees from different sects gather

The different phases of Kumbh Mela

The Kumbh Mela is held in each of these four places which are determined based on a combination of zodiac positions of the Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon. The following are the various types of Kumbh Mela celebrated:

  • Magh Mela: Held annually also known as mini kumbh mela in Allahabad (Prayag)
  • Ardh Kumbh: Ardha or half Kumbh occurs every 6 years, in Allahabad and Haridwar
  • Kumbh Mela: Mostly known as Purna Kumbh or full Kumbh, held every 12 years
  • Maha Kumbh: The Maha Kumbh occurs after 12 Purna Kumbh Mela which is 144 years, in Allahabad (Prayag)

Celestial alignment during Simhasth (kumbh)

Each of the four destinations which are associated with a holy river has its own distinct celestial timing:

Name of PlaceCelestial combinationAssociated riverMonth of celebration
Allahabad (Prayag)Jupiter in Aries, Sun and Moon in Capricorn; or Jupiter in Taurus and Sun in CapricornGanga, Yamuna and Saraswati (hidden river)January – February
HaridwarJupiter in Aquarius, Sun in AriesGangaMarch – April
NashikJupiter in Leo; or Jupiter, Sun and Moon in Cancer on lunar conjunction (Amavasya)GodavariAugust – September
UjjainJupiter in Leo, Sun in Aries; or Jupiter, Sun, and Moon in Libra on Kartik AmavasyaShipraApril – May

 

Rituals

religious gathering during the Kumbh festival

The Kumbh Mela is attended by millions of people every day throughout the occasion.

The major event of the festival is the ritual bath on the banks of the holy river where the Kumbh Mela is held.

Other activities include religious meetings, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor.

Important Kumbh Mela ritual bath days are:

  • Pausa Purnima (full moon)
  • Makara Sankranti
  • Mauni Amavasya (dark moon)
  • Vasant Panchami
  • Magh Purnima
  • Maha Shivratri

In Hinduism, this festival is considered very holy and thousands of holy men and women flock to this sacred destination to attend the auspicious festival.

The temporary city during Kumbh Mela

An entire city consisting of temporary structures are erected during the Kumbh Mela which goes on for about eight weeks. The temporary city which is built from scratch is laid out on a grid. This temporary city is equipped with make do roads, street lights, telephone booths, health centers, markets, sanitary facilities and tourist camps to accommodate foreign visitors.

Both the central government and local authority spends a large amount of fund starting from preliminary organization. Thousands of armed officials, lifeguards, doctors, nurses and scouts are present 24 hour on site for continuous vigilance.

During the Kumbh Mela in 2013 held in Allahabad, authorities supplied around 40,000 portable toilets, 80 million litres of drinking water, stationed 243 doctors and treated around 100,000 people for various infections at the 14 hospitals within the campus.

The pop-up city for Kumbh Mela celebration is considered a metropolis in itself, the biggest gathering of humanity in the world.

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