About the Kumbh Mela
The Hindi word ‘Mela’ can be translated to mean ‘Fair’. However the word Mela has its origin in the Hindi word ‘Milna” or “Milap” meaning ‘to meet’. The word Kumbh means pot and here refers to the pot of immortal nectar (Amrit). Now some background of the Kumbh Mela along with a story. As with most things Indian, essentially there is a tale associated with the Kumbh Mela too, and I suppose that we Indians love telling these stories.
India is a country that is primarily a spiritual land where every social tradition, event, gathering, celebration, festival, rite, form of worship and place of worship with the exception of a few modern ones are associated with a spiritual event, story or tradition. In the case of the Kumbh Mela it is no different.
The Ancient Tale behind the Kumbh Mela:
As the story goes, in ancient times there was an ongoing battle between the Gods (Devas) and the Demons (Danavs) both of whom were the progeny of Maharishi Kashyap. This war was of cultures, as well as, of ideological differences. Somehow, it was decided that there would be an event where the gods and the demons would churn the sea. It was expected that the churning of the sea would produce some treasures that would be shared by the two races.
In a text called the Vishnuyagy it is mentioned that many hundred thousands of years back to the north of the Himalayas in what is today called as Central Asia existed a Sea of fresh water called Kseerod. This was the sea that was being churned, the Mountain Mandarachal was used as the churning rod and the very deadly and poisonous snake Vasuki was being used as rope. Lord Vishnu took the form of a tortoise (Kurma avatar) and the Mandarchal was kept on his back so that it would be stable. As always it is the intelligent and the manipulative who win. So the Devas cunningly negotiated, that the demons would hold the head whereas they themselves held the tail. Since, the Nag Vasuki has a thousand heads and is poisonous many Danavs would die due to the poison and his bites. When the churning of the sea began, the first thing that appeared was the very deadly poison called Halahal. Immediately due to its fumes all three worlds began to suffer. Finally after some deliberation Lord Shiv decided to drink this poison and he stopped it in his throat. The effect of the poison made his throat turn deep blue and he is thus also called NeelKanth. Once Lord Shiv had saved the world from the poison the process of churning continued.
After this from among other things that appeared, there appeared the following fourteen divine treasures. The Vehicle Pushpak that is driven by swans, the Elephant Airavat, the tree Paarijat, the Veena, the celestial nymph dancer Rambha, the most precious ruby Kaustubh, the child Moon, the conch Panchjanya, the bow Sharang, five benefic Cows- Laxmi, Surupa, Sumna, Susheela, Surabhi, the horse called Ucchaishravah, the divine architect Vishwakarm, and the divine physician Shree Dhanwantari holding in his hands the pot of Amrit (the nectar of immortality) that attracted and charmed everybody.
The Devtas knew that the pot of immortal nectar would appear and the whole process of churning the sea was taking place because of this nectar. Since a war had been going on between the Devas and the Danavs for countless years, the devas realized that the only way to win this war was to make themselves immortal. Hence, they had preplanned that when the pot of immortal nectar appeared, then Jayant, the valiant son of Indra would grab the pot and hand it over to the Devas who would drink it to become immortal.
When the pot of immortal nectar appeared, as preplanned, the devtas signaled Jayant who grabbed the pot of Amrit and ran. The Devtas pretended to hold council and then informed the Guru of the Danavs- Shukracharya of the fact that the pot of Amrit had been stolen. When the Danavs heard this they left Vasuki and started chasing Jayant. Now Jayant was terrified by the Danavs and for twelve days he ran in twelve different directions with the Danavs in hot pursuit. During this chase many times the Danavs tried to grab the pot of Amrit that was held on to strongly by Jayant. During this chase, the Sun, with the help of the Moon, Jupiter and his son Saturn also guarded the pot of Amrit and prevented it from falling and thereby bursting. The moon prevented the Amrit from spilling. Jupiter guarded the pot from being taken away by the Danavs. Saturn guarded the pot in case Jayant himself decided to drink up all the Amrit. During this chase the pot of Amrit was placed on the ground once each day thereby being kept on the ground twelve times. (According to some versions, in the chase, a little nectar spilled in certain places). This argument between Jayant and the Danavs continued for these twelve days as to who would drink the Amrit first. As a result no one was able to drink it.
Finally, on the request of the Devas, the most charming Lord Vishnu took on the form of a very beautiful and charming celestial lady called Mohini. She went upto the Danavs and Jayant and stopped them, asking them why they quarreled. They told her the entire story. She charmed them into agreeing that they should entrust the distribution of the divine immortal nectar to her. They agreed. During the distribution; Mohini distributed as preplanned the immortal nectar to the Devas and gave the Danavs sweetened water with liquor instead. (Maybe that’s how word got around “Never trust a beautiful woman”. Forgive my sense of humour.) Eventually the Devas got the immortal nectar to become immortal.
Now each celestial day is equal to one year of the humans. Therefore when the Sun, the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn are in those sun signs where they were when they protected the pot of Amrit, then the Kumbhs occur. It is said that every year a Kumbh Mela occurs of which four are on earth in India and that they help in washing away the sins of humans as well as in their spiritual growth and well being. The other eight Kumbhs occur in different celestial and subtle worlds and are known only to the Devtas, the Rishis and the Siddhs.
Places where the Kumbh Mela takes Place:
The Kumbh Mela is a spiritual event that occurs four times in a period of twelve years (after every three years) in four different locations. These locations are
- Allahabad (Prayaag or Prayagya) on the banks of the Triveni, the place where there is a confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati;
- Ujjain (Avantika) on the banks of the river Shipra and it is known as the Simhast Mela;
- Nasik (near Panchwati) including Tryambakeshwar on the banks of the river Godavari; and
- Haridwar on the banks of the river Ganga.
The duration of the Kumbh Mela is for a period of one month except for the Haridwar Kumbh, the duration of which is about three months. Usually a Kumbh Mela occurs on a year, when the total sum of the figures of the year are divisible by three. For example the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad was in 2001, while the Simhast at Ujjain was in 2004, the Nasik Kumbh in 2007, the Haridwar Kumbh in 2010 and the forthcoming Allahabad Kumbh will be in 2013. So 2001 is 2+1=3; 2004 is 2+4 =6; 2007 is 2+7=9; 2010 is 2+1=3 and 2013 is 2+1+3=6 all of which are divisible by 3.
Of these four places the Allahabad Kumbh Mela is the considered to be the more important one. Also every year in Allahabad in the month of Magh (usually about January-February) according to the Hindu calendar, a fair known as the Magh Mela occurs. Once in twelve years, instead of the Magh Mela, the much grander Kumbh Mela takes place. In Allahabad, six years after the Kumbh Mela there is another Fair called the Ardh Kumbh Mela or the Half Kumbh Mela that again replaces the Magh Mela.
When do the Kumbh Melas occur?
- The Haridwar Kumbh: occurs when Jupiter is in Aquarius and there is an Aries sankranti. Sankranti means transmigration of Sun from one zodiac sign to the other (Rashi in Indian astrology). Therefore there are 12 such Sankrantis in all. In this case from Pisces to Aries. (Kumbhasth Brihaspati, on the day of Mesh Sankranti)
- The Prayag Kumbh (Allahabad): starts on a Moonless Night (Amavasya) when Jupiter is in Scorpio and the Sun is in Capricorn. (Vrishasth Brihaspati, Makarasth Surya ki Amavasya)
- The Haridwar Ardh Kumbh: occurs when Jupiter is in Leo and there is an Aries sankranti. Six years after the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. (Simhasth Brihaspati, on the day of Mesh Sankranti)
- The Ujjain Simhast (Kumbh): starts on a Moonless Night (Amavasya) when Jupiter is in Leo and the Sun is in Aries. (Simhast Brihaspati, Meshasth Surya ki Amavasya)
- The Godavari (Nasik) Kumbh: starts on a Moonless Night (Amavasya) when Jupiter is in Leo and the Sun is in Leo. (Simhast Brihaspati, Simhast Surya ki Amavasya)
- The Prayag Ardh Kumbh (Allahabad): starts on a Moonless Night (Amavasya) when Jupiter is in Scorpio and the Sun is in Capricorn. Six years after the Prayag Kumbh Mela. (Vrishasth Brihaspati, Makarasth Surya ki Amavasya)
- Now the Haridwar Kumbh occurs as in the first point thereby repeating the entire cycle. The Haridwar Ardh Kumbh and the Ujjain Simhast will occur in the same year. In the same way the Allahabad Ardh Kumbh and the Godavari (Nasik) Kumbh will occur in the same year.
About the Kumbh Mela:
The Kumbh Mela is an event that predates historical records. This event was neither organized by anyone nor was anyone invited to it. Historically, during certain specific times the Sannyasis, the Sadhus and other orders of Hindu Monks gathered here on their own. The event was basically meant to give the monks a chance to socialize, organize gatherings to discuss various topics, learn spiritual techniques from each other, as well as to receive spiritual initiations.
However, in the past century the Kumbh Mela has taken on huge proportions, especially so, in the last few decades. People through the media have become more aware of the event. During the Kumbh there are usually atleast three days that are considered to be special days for holy bathing. With India’s population of over one billion people especially on and around these days a huge number of people arrive at the Kumbh Mela. Most come for the Holy bathing, but, equally many come to visit the monks and spiritual heads to receive blessings; still others come in search for a Guru – a spiritual master to seek spiritual guidance and learn philosophy; and yet others to seek blessings to solve their problems.
The Kumbh Melas are very special as they are perhaps the only spiritual event that takes place at such a large scale anywhere in the entire world. To those who have never visited the Kumbh, it is a place that is charged with enormous spiritual energy, with many different types of spiritual events, from lectures, yagyas (Hindu spiritual fire ceremonies), practice of asans and pranayam in certain camps, to bhajans (singing of spiritual songs, verses) in certain others, certain spiritual healing practices, reading of spiritual texts, feasts, processions, bathing, Satsang etc, taking place at various times continuously for a period of this entire month. The Bathing days, off course are special.
What is really meant by this holy bathing?
Undoubtedly, on the occasion of the special days of holy bathing there is enormous spiritual energy in the area of the Kumbh Mela. So firstly, the dip in the river definitely has great spiritual meaning as the place is charged with an enormous spiritual energy. Indian scripture give a lot of importance to holy bathing on special days as this practice can easily fill up the person with an enormous spiritual energy. One has to experience it to believe it. But imagine all these spiritual men coming together in a huge explosion of spiritual energy. Only to be present in the area of the Kumbh means bathing in this spiritual energy; so this is the second meaning of the holy bathing. And thirdly, communicating with, as well as listening to the words of knowledge and wisdom from the monks and sages, that is bathing in the river of divine knowledge. Fourthly, visiting sannyasis and spiritual persons, receiving the blessings given by the saints and thereby the spiritual merit received by the power of their prayers given as blessings is a bath in the waters of good luck and fortune. Fifth, many people stay at the Kumbh Mela for an entire month to perform spiritual practices. This is called Kalpwas and is believed to bring enormous merit and spiritual power to the aspirant. One can term this as a bath in the deeper waters and into the more serious aspects of spirituality.
Main Bathing days as per Hindu Calender:1. Hariwar Kumbh
- First Bath is on Mahashivratri (Phalgun Tryodashi, Chaturdashi)
- Second Bath is on Chaitra, Krishna Amavasya.
- Third Main Bath is on Mesh Sankranti.
- First Bath is on Makar Sankranti.
- Second Main Bath is on Mauni Amavasya.
- Third Main Bath is on Basant Panchmi.
- First Ordinary Bath is on Mesh Sankranti.
- Second Kumbh Bath is on Vaishakh, Krishna Amavasya.
- Third Main Bath is on Vaishakh Poornima.
- First Bath is on Shravan, Krishna Amavasya.
- Second Bath is on Simha Sankranti.
- Third Main Bath is on Shravan Poornima (Raksha Bandhan).
- Fourth Main Bath is on Bhadrapad Amavasya.