The Kumbh Mela is the greatest of all human gatherings that takes place anywhere around the world. Millions and millions of Hindus assemble at the banks of the sacred River Ganges to take a dip in its holy waters and get rid of the cycle of birth and death. The gathering is held every three year at four places – Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain – in rotation. Although the exact history behind the tradition of holding such a huge gathering is not clear, we know the practice is ancient and finds a mention in the Hindu scriptures. The earliest mention comes from the tales of the famous Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang. This year the Kumbh Mela is scheduled from the January 27 till February 25, at Allahabad. So, if you still haven’t packed your bags, read about these Top 10 reasons why a visit to the Kumbh Mela is a must.
The Kumbh Mela presumably witnesses the biggest human gathering that takes place anywhere around the world. You’ll be surprised to know that by 1977, 15 million people were recorded to have attended the Mela. Over time, this number rose to 29 million during 1989; and in the present times it is estimated to stand anywhere between 60-80 million. The attendance is so large that there are no exact measures to even note down the number of people coming in to pay homage to the mighty River Ganges.
The Kumbh Mela depicts the intensity that religious fervor can produce in its followers. Hindus in millions – young or old, frail or fit – all come to take a holy dip in the waters of the River Ganges. They worship her as a powerful Goddess, who can wash away their sins and absolve them in its waters. The world has always been left amazed at the sheer magnitude of an event like this. Foreigners often plan their trip to India during the time of the Kumbh, only to witness the most spectacular sights of mass gathering where a pinhole of space is difficult to find.
The Kumbh is not a festival like Diwali and Holi. Its importance goes far beyond imagination. People look up to the event in the highest regards. They come here to wash off their sins and get rid of any form of penance. Taking a bath in the holy waters of the Ganges at the time of the Kumbh is believed to liberate people from their continual sufferings and miseries. This is the reason why, despite all the odds, Indians from even the most remote regions come here to attend the Mela and find their true selves all over again.
Taking place at the Sangam, or the confluence of holiest rivers to the Hindus – the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Saraswati – Kumbh Mela carries with it the memories of the ancient past. It is believed that the ashram of the learned Bharadwaja, where Lord Ram and his younger brother Lakshman and wife Sita had stayed, was situated at the Sangam. Also, other learned saints like Shankaracharya and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have visited the Kumbh Mela in the past. These events place the Kumbh in high reverence and most Hindus wish to attend the event at least once in their lifetime.
While in the simplest forms the word Kumbh means ‘a Pitcher’, there is more depth to the word. The Kumbh is synonymous with the sea, the earth, the human body, the sun and Vishnu. Seas, rivers, and ponds are synonymous with the Kumbh as they are covered with land on all sides, and similarly, the sky covers the earth, earth is covered by the sun; the human body is covered by cells and tissues, and so everything has a pitcher around it. The meaning goes deeper than what can be imagined, and maybe a visit to the Kumbh will reveal it all.
The Hindus believe that taking a dip in the waters of the Ganges on the most auspicious day of the Kumbh will absolve them and their ancestors of all their sins. This day is when the new moon appears in the sky. To get a chance for the dip, devotees start collecting at the banks of the river as early as 3:00 am in the morning. The sight of sadhus and the Nagas competing to get in first is spectacular. Followed by thousands, post bathing everyone wears fresh clothes and goes around listening to the discourses of the sadhus.
Only on attending the Mela in totality can give you an irreplaceable experience. Besides taking a dip in the water thrice every day, you can attend special yoga classes, attend lectures, participate in cultural programs and attend aartis that will enlighten your soul and uplift your spirits, immersing you in an absolute state of peace and well being. It’s the one chance to meet many learned Hindu spiritual leaders, preachers and sadhus, all in one place.
Although you can opt to stay at private hotels or home stays, the best experience is stay at one of the several tents along the river bank. This will not only give you an insight into the lives of the sadhus, but is also an opportunity to learn more about the Hindu religion, the importance of events like Kumbh Mela, and how to sustain this religious awakening when you leave the place and return to your normal lives.
According to the ancient Hindu mythology, Kumbh Mela is the only time and place on Earth, where religiously you can be absolved of your sins and get freedom from the cycle of birth and death. It is here, where taking a dip in the holy waters of the River Ganges and praying for her blessings will lead to Nirvana. Moreover many also believe that if you light a diya in the evening, float it in the waters and make a wish, it is most likely going to come true.
The main purpose of people coming to the Kumbh Mela is to take the scared bath. And while, the whole one and a half month of the Mela is considered auspicious, there are certain days that are more royal and scared than the others. On the royal days, you’ll see the Naga Sadhus, bathing and parading the banks of the rivers. These Sadhus are also called the naked merchants, who don’t wear a single piece of cloth over their body for the bath and parade. Then comes the new moon day, one of the most auspicious days, when Sadhus and Nagas gather at the banks before sunrise and compete for the first dip.