Out of all the sacred festivals in Hinduism, Kumbh Mela or Kumbha Mela is regarded as a major celebration. This festival is held every 12 years, where devotees go on a pilgrimage to wash their sins.
Four major pilgrimage sites celebrate the Kumbh Mela. The location of the festival keeps rotating between these places:
- Allahabad or Prayagraj (Ganges-Yamuna)
- Haridwar (Ganges)
- Nashik (Godavari)
- Ujjain (Shipra)
Kumbh Mela gathers a large number of devotees from India and around the globe.
Before we get into this significant festival, it is important to learn about its interesting history and origins.
Origin of Kumbh Mela
The word ‘Kumbh’ in Kumbh Mela translates to ‘pitcher, or pot’ in the Sanskrit language.
Meanwhile, ‘mela’ means to unite, join or assemble. Thus, combining both terms means assembly or union around the nectar of immortality.
The Hindu legend takes place during the time of Gods (Devtas) and demons. According to mythology, both participated in producing the nectar of immortality.
Devtas and Demons agreed to complete the task together and share the nectar in half. They assembled on the shore and churned the ocean of creation. The churning process produced a deadly poison that none of the gods and demons could drink. Hence, they called upon Lord Shiva who drank the poison and remained unaffected.
Several years later, Lord Shiva appeared as Dhanwantari with a pot of nectar that contained immortality. The Gods ceased the pot from her hands whereafter the Demons chased after them.
It is believed that during the battle for the pot, the drops of Kumbh fell on four significant sites, Haridwar, Prayagraj, Ujjain, and Nashik. Since then, these places have been known to hold mystical powers.
The fight for the sacred pot lasted for 21 days which is considered to be 12 years for humans. Due to this, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated once in 12 years and the gathering takes place at the sacred sites where the drops from the pot fell.
During the Kumbh Mela festival, the river water is believed to transform into an elixir. As per the beliefs, people dip or bathe in it to attain purity and immortality.
History of Kumbh Mela
The earliest account of Kumbh Mela is recorded by a Chinese traveler named Xuanzang who came to India in the 7th century. He observed the Hindu bathing rituals at the rivers of present-day Prayag.
According to several texts, Kumbh Mela of Haridwar is the original festival and has various references in the record.
Types of Kumbh Mela
The Kumbh Mela is divided into further classifications:
- Maha Kumbh – This mela is only held in Prayagraj. The Maha Kumbh Mela comes every 144 years or after 12 Purna (complete) Kumbh Mela is celebrated.
- Pura Kumbh – It comes every four years and is mainly held at the four significant sites – Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjaini, and Nashik. The mela rotates every 12 years at these places.
- Ardh Kumbh – Ardh translates to half and hence it is known as half Kumbh mela. It is held every 6 months in India only at Haridwar and Prayagraj.
- Kumbh Mela – This is originated by the state governments at four different places.
- Magh Kumbh – Magh Kumbh mela is also known as the Mini Kumbh mela. It is held annually in the month of Hindu month Magh (January/February according to the Gregorian calendars). This mela is only celebrated in Prayagraj.
Dates for Kumbh Mela
The dates for the Kumbh Mela are calculated in advance. They are set according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Brhaspati (Jupiter), Surya (Sun), and Chandra (Moon).
Rituals involved in Kumbh Mela
The central ritual for all pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela is bathing or having a dip in the river of the pilgrimage sites.
Before devotes can enter the river, it is the saints who bathe first accompanied by a large celebratory procession.
The reason for bathing in the river is to attain Moksha (Salvation) – liberation from life’s rebirth cycles. It is also known that dipping in the sacred river water frees a person of their sins and helps them gain self-purity.
2. Feasts and festivities
As part of the religion’s tradition, many pilgrims walk barefoot for a considerable distance to arrive at the mela.
They also practice fasting and break them with celebratory feasts. These feasts involve many people who sit in rows and share community meals. The meals are made by volunteers or sponsored by certain companies.
Various cultural activities also occur at the Kumbh Mela. It includes exhibitions of Indian art, classical dances, musical performances, and spiritual discourses.
Darshan or viewing is an important part of Kumbh Mela where pilgrims visit the festival to observe the religious events. Devotes also take the darshan of Sadhus (Hindu holy men) to seek their spiritual and religious advice.
Although Kumbh Mela is known to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world, it is not free from the hysteria surrounding it.
Unfortunately, with millions of people attending the mela, the sites have been part of several stampedes. In the year 1820, the stampede at Haridwar claimed the lives of 485 people.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, many stampede cases were reported. In the year 2013, at least 35 people were killed and a dozen injured in a stampede when pilgrims arrived at the Allahabad station.
To manage the large crowds at every Kumbh Mela festival, the government has introduced stricter protections and safety precautions for visitors.
Kumbh Meal Schedule for 2021
The Kumbh Mela of 2021 will be held in Hardwar after a gap of 11 years. The festival will commence on 14th January (Maka Sankranti) and end on 27th April (Chaitra Purnima) 2021.
The dates for Shahi Snan (bathing ritual which pleases the Lord) are set on 11th March, 12th April, 14th April, and 27th April 2021 respectively.
Things to do at Kumbh mela
If you are visiting the magnificent Kumbh Mela, the festival offers several things to do. Here are some of the activities to enjoy in the mela:
- Take a dip in the rivers located at the pilgrimage site
- Visit an Akhada and converse with the Sadhu’s present.
- Watch musical performances and observe the Indian arts
- Enjoy community meals with other fellow pilgrims
- Visit the ancient temples of the pilgrimage site.
Kumbh Mela is one of the most celebrated and crucial festivals in Hinduism. Here, you can witness a mix of culture, religion, and devotion which blend seamlessly with one another.
It is of a kind event that has an interesting origin, history, and rituals you wouldn’t want to miss.
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