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Bathe at the Mythical Kumbh Mela: Largest Gathering of People on Earth

Published by Paromita Goswami, Writer

Country: India

The Experience

India is a country of diverse faiths, and Kumbh Mela is one of the holiest events in India, bringing Hindus from all over the country, and the world, together. This is a time when Hindus forget which caste they belong to, which region they come from or their social status, and take part in the mass celebration of Kumbh Mela. This event has attracted the acclaimed title as the largest human gathering in the world, where people come with only one thing on their mind, faith. Pilgrims come to Kumbh Mela full of such tremendous devotion, and in such overwhelming numbers, that it boggles the mind. It looks like an ocean of humans.

Kumbh (pot) Mela (fair) is the sacred pilgrimage of the Hindus that takes place in four places in India. They are Prayag near Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh (where the three sacred rivers: Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati meet); Haridwar, Uttranchal (where the mighty river Ganga enters the plains from the Himalayas); Ujjian, Madhya Pradesh (near the river Ksipra); and in Nasik, Maharashtra on the banks of Godavari River.

The Kumbh Mela pilgrimage occurs four times every twelve years, once at each of the four locations mentioned above. It also takes place as the Maha Kumbh Mela on the twelve-year-cycle in Prayag, which is considered the most sacred of all and is attended by millions of people.

According to astrologers, when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries, the holy event of Kumbh Mela begins. It is believed that during this period, the passage from Earth to other higher planets is open, and the soul can easily attain the celestial world. Thus by bathing in the holy river, the past sins are washed off and the soul attains Moksha (becomes eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death). People take ritual baths in the holy river at a predetermined time, and forgetting the extreme temperatures. This river offers purity, wealth and fertility, and washes away the sins of those who bathe in it.

One must also understand the mythological story behind Kumbh Mela. It is believed that during the Vedic period when Gods and Demons reined the world, the duo made a temporary agreement to work together for churning Amrita (the nectar of immortality) from the Milky Ocean, and share it equally among them. But when the Kumbh (pot) containing Amrita appeared, the demons fled with it. The Gods chased them and fought with them for twelve days and nights (equivalent to twelve human years) in the sky for its possession. During this battle, drops of Amrita fell on earth in four places: Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. It is believed that due to drops of Amrita, these places have acquired mystical power (especially Prayag), and henceforth they became the venue of Kumbh Mela.




When to Go to Kumbh Mela

Determined by an astrological calendar, the dates of Kumbh Mela vary festival to festival. Approximate date ranges for upcoming Kumbh Mela festivals are: January 14 - April 14, 2010, January 27 - February 25, 2013, August 15 - September 13, 2015, and April 22 - May 21, 2016.

People will arrive at the Kumbh Mela in the millions by any means necessary. Some will come by train or car; others will walk, come on camel—or even carried by others. The four main sites can be reached by train and then through local transport.

Odds n' Ends

Apart from the pilgrims, many acclaimed saints and sadhus (Hindu holy men) from all over the country come to participate in the Kumbh Mela. The most prominent are the Naga Sadhus who do not wear any clothes and smear ashes on their bodies. There are also the Urdhwavahurs, who believe in putting the body through severe austerities; the Parivajakas, who have taken a vow of silence and go about tinkling little bells to get people out of their way; the Shirshasins who stand 24-hours and meditate for hours standing on their heads. The Kalpvasis spend the entire month of the Kumbh on the banks of the Ganga, meditating, performing rituals and bathing thrice a day. During Kumbh Mela, the venue becomes the centre of religious discussion and religious assemblies where doctrine is debated and standardized.

In this month, the banks of The Ganges turn into small town with markets and hospitals, and tents for accommodation. There is a tourist camp for the visitors, and during the evenings the campfire lights up the banks of The Ganges. One can enjoy the Indian mythological stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat here, or participate in the religious discussions. In the central festival area, decorated pandals (large tents) accommodate the thousands who listen to some of India's most exalted gurus lecturing on spiritual and philosophical topics. In some pandals there are theatrical reconstructions of Indian drama and classical dance groups whose exotic costumes and performances attracted large audiences.

In spite of such good arrangements being made by the administration for such a big event, many mishaps cannot be averted. Although there is a specified time for bathing in the river for all groups, sometimes due to the millions of people, it becomes very difficult to manage, and the consequence results in a mass stampede. Such a mishap has occurred many times in the past where innocent people lose their life or get badly injured. Despite this, the enthusiasm of people never ends. People still come here to participate in their millions (70 million people attended the in 2007), and nothing will affect their faith. As a visitor, apart from the Kumbh Mela you can always tour the city which has a lot of things to offer.

Moreover, if you intend to visit the festival then you have to make reservations in advance as millions of pilgrims throng the venue. Also, special care has to be taken for your health during such a spectacular event.


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