Kumbh Mela - Indian Festival
The World's Most Massive Act of Faith. 14th January 2011
Kumbh Mela and Magh Mela
India can be considered to be a land of religion. With a total of 330 million gods, goddesses and demigods being mentioned in the sacred Hindu scriptures it is natural that religion remains the cornerstone of the Hindu religion.
Every year, periodical or annual fairs [festivals] are held on river banks, lake-shores, beaches and sacred places by Hindus to commemorate important events or in honour of Gods or Goddesses.
Pilgrims come from all walks of life, with a belief that their sins will be washed off in the holy waters of the sacred river Ganges if they take a dip during the Kumbh but the actual and more science based reasons appear to be different. It is actually the position of stars and constellations during the Kumbh that makes it significant to take a dip in the river at that time we have learned.
Actually Kumbh Mela takes place during an auspicious planetary position that is believed to medicate the Ganges waters with a concentration of certain rays due to their position and turn the river into nectar. Millions of devotees arrive to purify their inner self through holy bathing rituals. It is thought by some, Will and Guy have discovered, that a lot of skin diseases are cured during this time.
The numbers have to be seen to be believed. Over 30 million people gather
for the festival.
In common Hindu parlance, fairs are known as "Mela's". These "mela's" find a mention in the great Hindu epics and sacred Sanskrit texts [Puranas] and are a prominent feature of Hinduism from time immemorial.
To understand the significance of the Kumbha Mela and the important role that it plays in the spirituality of India, it is helpful to know something about the background of the sacred Ganges River. The devout believe that simply by bathing in the Ganges one is freed from their past sins [karma], and thus one becomes eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Of course it is said that a pure lifestyle is also required after taking bath, otherwise one will again be burdened by karmic reactions. The pilgrims come from all walks of life, travelling long distances and tolerating many physical discomforts, such as sleeping in the open air in near freezing weather. They undergo these difficulties just to receive the benefit of taking a bath in the sacred river at Kumbha Mela.
The most important of these melas is the Kumbh Mela. A mass pilgrimage for the Hindu community of India, the Kumbh Mela or Kumbh fair is rumoured to be one of the largest congregation of sages, yogis, ascetics, mendicants, men, women and children on the planet. It occurs four times every twelve years and is organised in rotation among four places: Allahabad (Prayag), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.
Every twelve-year cycle includes one Purna Kumbh Mela [Great Kumbh Mela] at Prayag. Around 60 million people is said to attend the Purna Kumbh Mela, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
The Maha Kumbh Mela periodically falls every 144 years or after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas, at Allahabad. Kumbh Mela derives its name from the AmritaKumbha [Pot of Nectar] described in the ancient Vedic scripture "çrémad-Bhägavatam". In Sanskrit language, the word Kumbha means "pot or pitcher". Mela means "festival". Thus Kumbh Mela literally translated means 'festival of the pot,' that is, the pot of nectar.
This spectacle of faith has for many centuries attracted the curiosity of foreign travellers. Hiuen Tsiang of China, who lived during the seventh century, was the first to mention Kumbha Mela in his diary. He gave an eyewitness report that during the Hindu month of Magha [January-February] half a million people had gathered on the banks of the Ganges at Allahabad to observe a celebration for 75 days. The pilgrims, writes Hiuen Tsiang, assembled along with their king, his ministers, scholars, philosophers, and sages. He also reports that the king had distributed enormous quantities of gold, silver, and jewels in charity for the purpose of acquiring good merit and thus assuring his place in heaven.
Map of India locating Haridwar and Rishikesh, where the three-month Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela is held. Braving chilly weather, hordes of pilgrims rise before sunrise in and around the northern town of Haridwar and made their way in darkness to the banks of the river to immerse themselves in the sacred waters.
The Magh Mela is one of the greatest annual religious affairs for Hindus. In accordance with the traditional Hindu calendar followed in North India, this holy fair is organised every year during the Hindu month of Magh. See more on Magh Mela
The observance of Kumbha Mela is based upon the following story.
Many thousands of years ago, perhaps in the Vedic period, gods and demons made a temporary agreement to work together in obtaining "amrita", the nectar of immortality, from the Milky Ocean, and to share this equally.
However, when the Kumbha [pot] containing the amrita appeared, the demons ran away with the pot and were chased by the gods.
For twelve days and twelve nights, the equivalent to twelve human years we have learned, the gods and demons fought in the sky for the possession of this pot of amrita.
It is said that during the battle, drops of amrita fell on to four places: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik.
Thus, Kumbha mela is observed at these four locations where the nectar fell.
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