Started in the 2nd century B.C. Kumbh Mela is a Hindu Holy Festival, celebrated once every 12 years. The main site is at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, India,. This is the point known as the Sangam, where Hindus believe the Ganga, the Yamuna, and mythical Saraswati rivers meet. There are also three other minor sites, in Hardwar, Uttar Pradesh, where it is celebrated on the banks of river Ganga, at Ujjain, Kumbh is celebrated on the banks of river Shipra and at Nasik on the banks of river Godaw

The main reason people attend is to bathe in the waters of the combined rivers, as it is believed that a dunking grants salvation to the person doing it, as well as their last 88 generations of ancestors, and in so doing freeding them from the cycle of death and rebirth. There are several particularly auspicious days on which to bathe (known as Kumbh Snan), but the most important is January 24th, known as the Mauni Amavasya, or the "New Moon of the Saints." This is the day when the new members of the holy orders are initiated.

People also attend to listen to the words of the sadhus, particularly the extreme aestetics known as the Nagas, in an attempt to gain spiritual enlightenment. There are several other types of holy men in attendance ranging from the Urdhwavahurs who practice severe physical punishment leading to emaciation; the silent Parivajakas who go about tinkling little bells to get people out of their way; the Shirshasins who stand all 24 hours and sleep with their heads resting on a vertical pole and meditate for long hours standing on their heads

Historically the Kumbh can be traced to the pre-Aryan fertility rituals, when river festivals were held to try to get a good harvest, and pots of grains were soaked in the waters of the holy rivers before being put to seed. The Hindu story behind the significance of Kumbh Mela is as follows :

Once upon a time sage Durvasa (spiritually enlightened sage) visited Amravati, the capital of Swarga (heaven). The sage in pleasant mood intended to see Lord Indra and on meeting him affectionately offered garland of ' never wilting flowers'. Lord Indra took them in a casual way and passed the garland to Airawat (divine elephant) who in turn crushed the garland under its feet. Angered at Lord Indra's arrogance, Sage Durvasa pronounced a curse on him, devoiding him of all the riches, virtues and power. Knowing this, demon king Bali attacked Lord Indra and snatched away all the riches and virtuous possessions. The gods were weakened and then Lord Vishnu (the preserver of the Universe) advised Lord Indra that to regain his lost powers and splendour he needed ambrosia or Amrita (divine nectar). To extract this from the depths of the ocean, the demons were motivated to churn the ocean along with the gods. Mighty mountain Mandarachal was used as churn staff, formidable serpent king Vasuki became the string to move the churn, Lord Vishnu in the guise of koorm (tortoise) gave support from the bottom and Lord Brahma (the creator of Universe) guided the churning from top.

With the churning, fourteen Ratnas (virtuous jewels) emerged from the ocean. These were Poison, Flying Horse, Magic Moon, Sky chariot, Vibrant Lyre, Rambha (the siren), Lakshmi (the paragon of beauty and the provider of all riches), Vishwakarma (the divine architect), Dhanvantari (the divine healer), Gajaraj (the divine elephant), Kaustubh Mani , the divine conch shell, Varuni (the enchantress) and the coveted kumbh (pitcher) of Amrit (divine nectar).

With the emergence of amrit, there was scramble amongst the gods and demons for the possession of the divine elixir. Lord Vishnu handed over the kumbh (pitcher) of amrit to divine Garuda (the winged mount of Lord Vishnu). Garuda, who was to take the pitcher of nectar safely to heaven (Swarga), was stopped on way at four places by the demons.These places are the present day Allahabad, Hardwar, Ujjain and Nashik, where Garuda had to put the pitcher down. Some of the nectar spilled at these places, sanctifying them forever. (As per Skand Puran, the story of taking away the pitcher by Jayanta, son of Lord Indra and the episode of spilling of nectar is mentioned, while other Purans - Vishnu, Brahamandu , Padma, Bhagwat , Agni, Mahabharat and Ramayana narrate the story of Garuda the winged mount of Lord Vishnu).

All along the flight, Garuda was guided by Lord Brihasapati (Jupiter),then transiting in the rashi (zodiac) Aquarius, Taurus and Leo. Sun and Saturn along with the Moon were on the vanguard in protecting the Amrit Kumbh (pitcher of divine nectar). The flight of Garuda lasted 12 days (12 human years). Therefore Kumbh is celebrated around every twelve years.

Story taken from

The 2001 Kumbh Mela is one of the largest gatherings of humanity ever seen , with the average estimate of attendance running at about 30 million people over the festivals 43 day run. These huge numbers attendingcome from the fact that the planets are in a certain alignment seen as being particularly important that occurs once every 144 years

(Back to Hindu Mythology)

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