The Kumbh mela is one of the largest gathering of humans in the world – here’s all you need to know about why 150 million people head to Prayagraj.

The Kumbh Mela is one of the biggest spiritual festivals in the world. Also called the festival of the sacred pitcher, this UNESCO-listed festival is anchored in Hindu mythology. It is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith and lasts for 48 days from January till March in Prayagraj (formerly known as Allahabad).

Tens of millions of people come out and bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mystical Sarasvati. This year, it is said to see a record turnout of 15 crore people (crore = ten million,) making it the biggest human congregation on Earth! The melange includes ascetics, saints, sadhus, sadhvis, kalpvasis, pilgrims and tourists fascinated by the sheer scale of the festival.

kumbh mela india

Aerial view

Locations

In Hinduism, the Kumbh Mela is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over 12 years. The celebration spans four spots in India on four sacred rivers: Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand, Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh, Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra, Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati in Uttar Pradesh.

All four of the different locations is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, Moon, and the Jupiter. The exact moment when these positions are fully occupied, the celebrations occur. This is not only a spiritual celebration but is an event that recognizes the astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, socio-cultural customs, and practices.

Ganges During Kumbh Mela

Photo: Edson Walker via wikimedia commons

Origin

The origin of Kumbh Mela was transcribed by the 8th-century philosopher Shankara. The Puranas (compilation of ancient legends) recount how Gods and demons fought over the sacred pitcher (Kumbh) of Amrit (nectar of immortality).

Lord Vishnu (disguised as the enchantress ‘Mohini’) whisked the Kumbh out of the grasp of demons who had tried to get their hands on it. As he took it heavenwards, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on the four sacred sites. The pursuit is said to have lasted 12 divine days (equal to 12 human years). That is why the Mela is celebrated every dozen years across the four sacred sites. The rivers are believed to have turned into Amrit at the cosmic moment, offering pilgrims a chance to dip in the essence of purity, auspiciousness, and immortality.

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A dip in the Ganges

The most significant ritual in the Kumbh Mela is the bathing ritual. It is believed that if you submerges yourself in the holy water, you will be purged of all your sins, release yourself and your ancestors from the cycle of rebirth and attain Moksha. Pilgrims also worship on the banks of the holy river and take part in discourses from various sadhus and saints.

There are specific bathing dates, processions of saints and disciples, and members of various Akharas (religious orders) who take part in a ritual of Shahi Snan (holy bathing), at the start of Kumbh. This is the highlight of the event. Only after the dip is complete are people able to take the holy bath. This is the belief that people will get an added advantage of the essence of the holy deeds and thoughts by the saints by submerging themselves after them.

According to the Kumbh Mela official website, there are six dates for the bathing rituals.

peshvai kumbh mela india

Peshvai

Attractions

There are different kinds of attractions during this celebration. Check out the creative hub,  Kalagram, which offers a glimpse of Indian art and culture to travellers. There are 13 pavilions with unique designs that have been constructed. Peshwai is the grand procession of saints to mark the beginning of the Kumbh Mela by welcoming people from around the world as they shower flower petals on the passing procession.

Soak in the authentic local culture at the various events and enjoy a tourist walk at this fascinating festival, and there is even a laser light show at the Prayagraj Fort Wall. The event has also added advanced technology into this by including virtual reality.

ganga kumbh mela india

Sadhus and saints

Pilgrims that attend the Kumbh Mela come from all sections of the religion: Sadhus (saints,) and Naga Sadhus who practice ‘sadhana’. Those who practice ‘sadhana’ keenly follow a strict path of spiritual discipline.

sadhu kumbh mela

Photo: Godesi.com via flickr

Where To Stay

There are places for people to stay during this time, and one of the most interesting areas is Tent City. There are six areas of stay that are occupied by tents: Kumbh Village, Kanj Kiri Container- Tent City Kumbh, Kalpa Vriksh, Kumbh Canvas, Vedic Tent City, and  Indraprastham City.

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