3rd March 2013

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013Kumbh Mela sees the largest gathering of pilgrims from across the world and this year it was the Maha Kumbh, which occurs every 144 years at Prayag Allahabad, with over 100 million visitors. This year’s Maha Kumbh is lasting a huge 55 days including 6 auspicious bathing days with Shahi processions of Sadhus and Saints and on each of these 6 days the visitors can be anywhere between 10 million to 30 million.

Kumbh Mela occurs every 12 years when the ‘Guru’ planet of our solar system, Jupiter cycles into Aries at the same time the Sun and the Moon are in Capricorn. This period is believed to be very auspicious. Rishi Bhrigu one of the first seven Seers of the ancient Vedic astronomy charted the planetary alignments of our solar system with a treatise – Bhrigu Samhita – of their astrological influences on human life. According to some academics (Prof S B Roy who authored Early Aryans of India) the great astrologer Vessametta, c.3500 BCE, set the first great bath on the new moon in the month of Magh, around Mid-January. Thus even by more secular thinking the bathing tradition goes back to the pre-Harappan Indus Valley civilisation in India.

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013Water is the source of life and the act of bathing at the Kumbh Mela is to symbolically wash our sins of body and mind with holy waters. Water is the first element that is influenced by the auspicious planetary alignments that occur every 12 years and so it is believed that by bathing in these holy waters the beneficial cosmic energy captured in water serves to refresh one’s body and mind. This holy water becomes the nectar of immortality, the elixir of life.

Prayag Allahabad is where two rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, form a triangular confluence, the Sangam, and bathing at this Sangam is considered to be most auspicious and pure for the soul. Tradition has it that an ancient river, Saraswati, now dried up also met at this juncture with Ganga and Yamuna but satellite images have shown a different underground course of Saraswati though one cannot rule out a change of course by the river at some ancient past.

Personally I would like to attribute the confluence of Saraswati, not in the form of the river but rather the spiritual knowledge and wisdom one gains by listening to the wise words of the Sants or Saints at the Kumbh Mela. The bathing in holy waters may wash away one’s impure thoughts but it is the wisdom, the Gyan, of the Saints that really is the immortal nectar of the Kumbh Mela.

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013Saraswati is the Goddess of Learning and the Vasant Panchami festival, the beginning of the Spring Season is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. I arrived with my family at the Kumbh Mela on this year’s start of Vasant Panchami on the 14th February and seeing so many saints each giving their sermons it occurred to me that this spiritual discourse, the Satsang, is what makes the real triangular Sangam of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna with Saraswati as the icon of spiritual knowledge. Historically the Saraswati civilisation of the Vedic era predates the Indus civilisation. It was at the banks of the river Saraswati that all the Vedic Mantras were revealed through the first seven Rishis, which may have had the effect of deifying Saraswati as the Goddess of knowledge.

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013Kumbh Mela takes its roots from the story of the churning of the ocean, Samundra Manthan. The demi-gods and demons agreed to churn the ocean to obtain the nectar of life hidden in the waters. They used the serpent Vasuki as the rope and mount Mandara as the churning spindle which rested on a turtle at the bed of the sea to stabilise the churning spindle. Many precious items came out of the churning which the gods and demons happily shared. Finally the AyurVeda guardian Dhanvantri came with a pitcher full of the nectar which both gods and demons wanted to partake to become immortal but the gods did not want to share it with the demons. A fight ensued for 12 divine days which are equivalent to 12 human years. During this fight some drops of the nectar fell on four places on earth: Prayag Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik.

Thus the Kumbh Mela is celebrated at these four places, with the Prayag Allahabad designated as the full Kumbh every 12 years and the others as partial during the intervening years.

Prayag, a city from the ancient Vedic period, is respected as the ultimate of pilgrimages which even the Mughal Emperor Akbar came to finally respect and in his mature years founded a religion Deen-e-Illahi and named Paryag as Illahabad, meaning the city of God. However Akbar’s great grandson Aurangzeb, an Islamist, attacked the Kumbh Mela in 1666. Still in India Akbar’s softer form of Deen-e-Illahi must still live on among Indian Muslims as for this Kumbh Mela there were reports of some Muslim camps also at Prayag for bathing at the Sangam waters. Finally, on the city’s name changes, Illahabad was tweaked to Allahabad under the British Raj.

Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013 Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013 Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013

The Kumbh organisation gets better every time I am sure but changing rooms for women especially should be commissioned for the next Kumbh Mela as a minimum. The Government did install thousands of toilets but definitely they need to improve on this for next Kumbh. Otherwise in spite of the huge numbers it doesn’t feel crowded at all. There were over 20 Ghats, beach stretches across several miles of the river bank. Moreover families at the river bank spend no more than couple of hours, people are constantly moving.

With media pictures galore on the Naga Sadhus I didn’t even see one Naga Sadhu for the day we were there. Our area was full of saffron and white robed Swamis but it seems the Naga Sadhus remain away from crowds and in their own Akhara. They are highly regarded for their ‘mind over body’ control. Prior to an initiation to be accepted in their fold one has to undergo various tests: living under water, covered in snow, bear intense heat and so on.

All in all the Kumbh Mela is a wonderful experience, the greatest show of unity among all Hindus regardless of their sect or caste or creed.

Anil Bhanot

{jathumbnail off images=”images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-02.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-03.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-04.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-05.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-06.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-01.jpg,images/stories/ritatrust/blogs/blogs-1588-07.jpg”}

Comments Off on Kumbh Mela at Prayag Allahabad 2013