The Kumbha Mela or the Pitcher Festival as it is known in the western countries—is the largest festival in the world. It is the biggest congregation of the humans on the earth. Tens of millions of religious and spiritual devotees throng the site during the festival days. It is the most ancient, grand and auspicious occasion celebrated in India. With the passage of time, Kumbha is no more restricted to the Indians and have attracted many foreigners from all over the world.
What is the purpose behind this large gathering? Why is it so important for the Indians, especially the Hindus? Do you wish to wash your soul of the sins you have committed? Do you wish to attain liberation? Do you want mental peace? Eager to know the answers? Well, I can help you. Read on:
1) Its origin
Storytime folks! According to the Indian Mythology, once the King of Devas (demigods), Indra disrespected Rishi (sage) Durvasa. Out of rage, the rishi cursed him and all the devas to be bereft of their strength and power. Taking advantage of this opportunity, asuras (demons) attacked the Swarga (heaven) —the abode of the Indra and the devas. As they had gone weak, they couldn’t fight back with full vigor. Ultimately, Indra lost his kingdom to the asuras and fled to save his life.
Later, Indra and the Devas approached Lord Vishnu for help. He suggested them to perform Ksheera Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk) to obtain Amrita (nectar of immortality) to regain their lost strength and become immortals. As it was a difficult task, Devas sought the help of their arch enemies—the asuras.
They agreed on the condition that the Amrita would be shared equally among them and the devas. When the Kumbha (pitcher) containing the Amrita appeared the asuras snatched it. Devas chased them, and a celestial war arose between them. For 12 days and 12 nights, they fought in the sky for the pitcher of nectar.
During the battle, few drops of Amrita spilled out of the pitcher at four places on the earth. It is these places where the festival of Kumbha is being organized.
2) The Four Holy Places
Prayag at Allahabad, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, holds the biggest of the KumbhaMela compared to the other three places. It is held on the banks of the Triveni Sangam—the confluence of pale-yellowish water of the river Ganga, the bluish water of the river Yamuna, and the invisible river Saraswati.
The other three places include Haridwar, on the banks of the river Ganga, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand; Nasik, on the banks of the river Godavari, in the Indian state of Maharastra; and Ujjain, on the banks of the river Shipra, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
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3) Deciding the Site of Observance
During the battle for Amrita, various demigods protected the pitcher of nectar from the demons. Brihaspati (Jupiter) protected it from being stolen, Chandrama (Moon) helped to prevent it from spilling, Surya (Sun) prevented breaking of the pitcher. Depending on a distinct set of astrological positions of these planets in particular zodiac signs, the Kumbha Mela is organized.
At Prayag, it is held when the Jupiter is in Aries, and the Sun and Moon are in Capricorn. Kumbha at Haridwar is held when the Jupiter is in Aquarius, and the Sun is in Aries. It is held at Ujjain when the Jupiter is in Leo, and the Sun is in Aries. Nasik celebrates the festival when the Jupiter and the Sun both are in Leo.
4) Why Twelve Years?
The chase and the battle for Amrita lasted for twelve days. Now, as per the Indian mythology, one day of God was considered equivalent to one year for humans. Hence, twelve days was equivalent to twelve years. The Kumbha Mela alternates between the four cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain, and Haridwar, every three years, i.e. it is conducted in each of these four places every twelfth year.
5) The Different Types
There are five types of Kumbha Melas—Ardh, Purna, Maha, Magh, and Kumbh. The Ardh Kumbha Mela is held in every six years between two Purna Kumbha Melas at Prayag (Allahabad) and Haridwar. The Purna Kumbha Mela takes place every twelve years at Prayag (Allahabad).
The third type, Maha Kumbha Mela is celebrated only at Prayag (Allahabad) every 144 years, i.e. after the completion of twelve Purna Kumbha Melas. It is a rarest of the rare occasion and is considered once in a lifetime event. The last Maha Kumbha Mela took place in 2001. It was the first Maha Kumbha of the 21st century (lucky are those who attended it).
The Kumbha Mela is held every third year rotating through the four places of Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. Magha Mela is held every year, except for the years of the Kumbha Mela and the Ardha Kumbha Mela, only at Prayag in the Magh months i.e. January-February.
6) What Tempts the Millions to be a Part of it?
At every Kumbha, millions of devotees plunge into the waters of the holy rivers. According to the Indian mythology, the waters of the holy rivers turn into Amrita during Kumbha months. They believe it cleanses their soul of the sins committed in the past and frees them from the vicious cycle of birth and re-birth, thereby attaining Moksha (salvation).
Vishnu Purana states that it is more beneficial to bathe during Kumbha at Sangam (Allahabad) as compared to performing 1,000 Ashwamedha Yajnas or circumambulating the earth 1,000,000 times. It washes away the sins and helps one’s ancestors of up to 88 generations in attaining Moksha.
Matsya Purana mentions that if one stays for a month at Prayag (Allahabad) during Kumbha, he finds a birth in Rudralok—the abode of Hindu Lord Shiva.