Kumbh Mela, also known as Kumbha Mela, is a significant Hindu pilgrimage and celebration. It is commemorated on a 12-year cycle at four river-bank pilgrimage sites: Allahabad (Prayagraj) (confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati rivers), Haridwar (Ganges), Nashik (Godavari), and Ujjain (Godavari) (Shipra).
A traditional plunge in the waters characterizes the event. The searchers think that bathing in these waters is a kind of prāyaścitta (atonement, penance) for previous transgressions and cleanses them of their sins. Still, it is also a celebration of community commerce, with multiple fairs, educational opportunities, religious talks by martyrs, group feedings of monks or the underprivileged, and entertainment spectacles.
The event is generally attributed to Adi Shankara, an eighth-century Hindu philosopher, and saint, as part of his attempts to establish large Hindu gatherings for intellectual discussions and debates and Hindu monasteries across the Indian subcontinent. Before the nineteenth century, however, there is a little historical textual record of these huge pilgrimages known as “Kumbha Mela.”
In Hinduism, there is strong evidence in ancient texts and inscriptions of an annual Magha Mela – with periodic bigger meetings every six or twelve years – when pilgrims assembled in great numbers, and one of the rites involved a sacred plunge into a river or holy tank. According to Kama MacLean, the colonial period’s sociopolitical events and response to Orientalism resulted in the rebranding and remobilization of the ancient Magha Mela as the modern era Kumbh Mela, notably after the 1857 Indian Rebellion.
The Maha Kumbh Mela’s History
The festival’s weeks cycle about every 12 years at each location, according to the Hindu luni-solar calendar and the respective astrological positions of Jupiter, the sun, and the moon. The Prayag and Haridwar festivals are about six years apart, and each includes a Maha (main) and Ardha (half) Kumbh Mela. The precise dates – notably for the Kumbh Mela at Ujjain and Nasik – have been a point of contention throughout the twentieth century.
Nashik and Ujjain festivals have traditionally been held concurrently or one year apart, about three years after the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. Similar but smaller communal pilgrimage and bathing celebrations are known as the Magha Mela, Makar Mela, or comparable in several regions of India. For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the Magha Mela with its water-dip rite is ancient.
This event, celebrated every 12 years in Kumbakonam’s Mahamaham tank (near the Kaveri river), draws millions of South Indian Hindus and is dubbed the Tamil Kumbh Mela. The Magha-Mela or Makar-Mela bathing pilgrimage and festivals, including Kurukshetra, Sonipat, and Panauti, have been dubbed Kumbh Mela (Nepal).
The Kumbh Melas have organized around three dates, lasting between one and three months around these days. Each event draws millions, with the Prayag Kumbh Mela attracting the greatest crowd and Haridwar attracting the second largest.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Kumbh Mela drew 60 million Hindus in 2001. The festival is one of the world’s greatest peaceful gatherings, dubbed the “world’s largest assembly of religious pilgrims.” It was placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The event lasts many days, with Amavasya garnering the greatest crowd on a single day. The Kumbh Mela’s largest single-day attendance, according to organizers, was 30 million on 10 February 2013 as well as 50 million on 4 February 2019.
Various Types of Kumbh Melas
The Maha Kumbh Mela is conducted only in Prayagraj. It occurs every 144 years or after completing the 12 Purna (Complete) Kumbh Mela.
Purna Kumbh Mela: This festival takes place every 12 years. The Kumbh Mela is mostly hosted in India’s four Kumbh Mela locations: Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. It alternates between these four locations every 12 years.
Ardh Kumbh Mela: This term refers to the Half Kumbh Mela celebrated in India every six years in just two locations, namely Haridwar and Prayagraj.
Kumbh Mela: The Kumbh Mela is held in four separate locations organized by state administrations. Thousands of individuals take part with spiritual zeal.
Magh Kumbh Mela: Also known as Mini Kumbh Mela, this yearly event takes place only in Prayagraj. It is held in the Hindu month of Magh.
The location of the Kumbh Mela is determined by the positions of the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter in their respective zodiac signs during that time period.
Since then, Kumbh Mela has been commemorated according to all ceremonial faiths, and people from all walks of life assemble to celebrate the eve.
Maha Kumbh Preparations
The event, which lasts more than a month, starts with the erection of a gigantic tented village. It is designed to house tourists and pilgrims, including platforms, cottages, huts, civic amenities, administrative facilities, and security measures. The government, local governments, and the police are organizing the event.
Maha Kumbh Rituals
Bathing for ‘soul purification’ is the most significant rite of the Maha Kumbh Mela. Devotees think that taking a swim in the river can absolve their sins.
Additionally, religious meetings, devotional singing, mass feeding, and discussions on spiritual beliefs are included in the ceremonies. Satsangs, in which devotees sit for hours listening to hymns, are an integral element of Maha Kumbh, as are discussions on Hinduism to share information about the faith.
The Kumbh Mela’s Significance
Kumbh Mela is a compound term composed of the words Kumbh and Mela. The term Kumbh derives from the everlasting pot of nectar over which the Devtas and demons battled in ancient Vedic books known as the Puranas. As we are all aware, Mela is a Sanskrit term that translates as ‘gathering’ or ‘to meet.
As stories describe, the Kumbh Mela’s history dates back to when the Devtas and Demons collaborated to create nectar of immortality. The Devtas and devils agreed to work together to achieve the goal and divide the nectar of immortality in half. The Devtas and demons then gathered on the shores of the milk ocean, which is located in the cosmos’s heavenly area. The milk ocean’s churning generated a lethal poison, which Lord Shiva drank without being harmed. After overcoming several obstacles, Dhanwantari reappeared with the nectar of immortality in her hands.
The Devtas halted the pot violently, entrusting its safekeeping to the four Gods – Brahaspati, Surya, Shani, and Chandra. Following that, the demons pursued the Devtas for many days. During this period, Kumbh drops fell in four locations: Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik. Since then, it is thought that these four locations have gained mysterious abilities.
The battle for the Kumbh or holy pitcher, between Gods and demons lasted 12 holy days, equivalent to 12 years for humans. This is why the Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years, and gatherings take place in the sacred locations or holy sites described before. According to legend, the rivers transformed into Amrit during this period. As an outcome, pilgrims from all over the globe go to the Kumbh Mela to bathe in the essence of purity and immortality.
When And Where Is The Maha Kumbh Festival Celebrated?
The Kumbh Mela is held every six years, whereas the Maha Kumbh is held four times every 12 years in Haridwar, with the dates determined by astrological calculations. There are ascetics, kalpvasis, pilgrims, and tourists among the crowd.
The Maha Kumbh Mela is held four times over 12 years in rotation between four Hindu pilgrimage sites along four rivers, including the Ganga in Haridwar, the Godavari in Nashik, the Shipra in Ujjain, and the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the legendary Saraswati in Prayagraj. The Maha Kumbh Mela will take place again in 2025.
FAQs About The Maha Kumbh Mela
After twelve years, Haridwar hosts the Maha Kumbh. According to tradition, the term ‘Kumbh’ translates as ‘nectar.’ According to tradition, Sage Durvasa’s curse debilitated the gods, while the demons wreaked devastation on the Earth. Then, with the assistance of asuras, Lord Brahma urged the Gods to churn out the nectar of immortality.
The event takes place during a 12-year cycle at four riverfront pilgrimage locations — Prayagraj (at the confluence of the Yamuna, Ganges, and the mythological Sarasvati), Haridwar (along the Ganges), Nashik (along the Godavari), and Ujjain (along the Shipra).
There are five kinds of Kumbh Melas in India: Maha Kumbh Mela (Maha Kumbh): For Hindus, the Maha Kumbh Mela is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Maha Kumbh Mela happens every 144 years or after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas.
The Ujjain Kumbh Mela originated in the 18th century, when Ranoji Shinde, the Maratha emperor, brought ascetics from Nashik to Ujjain for a local celebration.
Even though the Maha Kumbh Mela will not be hosted for another couple of years, it’s always interesting to learn about its great and long history. For more blogs about popular Indian festivals, keep reading Seema!