Kumbh Mela is a mass gathering of Hindu pilgrims to bathe in a sacred river, in search of religious and spiritual enlightenment. Four major Kumbh Melas are organized in India at different cities – Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain.
In Prayagraj, the site is located at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; on the banks of Ganga in Haridwar; on the banks of Godavari in Nashik and on the banks of Shipra in Ujjain. The fairs at Nashik and Ujjain are called Nashik-Trimbakeshwar Simhastha and Ujjain Simhastha respectively.
Kumbh Melas are the largest religious gathering of Hindus in India and also in the world. The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela of 2013 distinctly held the world record of being the largest gathering in the world with nearly 120 Million visitors.
Kumbh Mela 2019
In 2019 Ardh Kumbh Mela is organized at Prayagraj (initially Allahabad). The Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019 at Prayagraj started on Tuesday 15th January, 2019 and will conclude on Monday, 4th March 2019.
Prayagraj Kumbh Mela 2019
The 2019 Prayagraj Ardh Kumbh Mela commenced on 15th January 2019 and will conclude on 4th March 2019, on the Triveni Sangam (Confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati).
Thousands of Crores of Rupees are allotted by the state government of Uttar Pradesh for organizing the Prayagraj Kumbh Mela. The estimated expense this year is around 4000 crore. Many roads and bridges are constructed along with temporary settlements and electrification. During the duration of 55 days, nearly 120 Million Hindu devotees are estimated to visit the Prayagraj Kumbh.
When and Where is Kumbh Mela Observed?
At all the four locations – Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain the Kumbh Mela is organized every 12 years. An Ardh Kumbh Mela is also organized every six years at Prayagraj and Haridwar. The Kumbh Melas at Nashik and Ujjain are celebrated in the same year or are separated by a year.
The exact date of a Kumbh Mela is decided following the Vikram Samvat (Hindu calendar) and the astronomical positions of Jupiter, Sun and Moon. Kumbh Melas at Nashik and Ujjain are held when the planet Jupiter is in the zodiac sign Leo, which is also called Simhastha in Hindu astrology.
The individual criterion to determine the dates of Kumbh Melas at Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain are as below-
In Prayagraj the Kumbh Mela is organized at the confluence Ganga, Yamuna and an invisible Saraswati. The dates are determined when Sun and Moon are in Capricorn; Jupiter is in Aries; or Sun in Capricorn and Jupiter in Taurus; falling in the month of Magha (January-February). The Prayagraj Kumbh is celebrated three years after the Haridwar Kumbh and three years before Nashik and Haridwar Kumbh.
The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela is the oldest and the most popular of the rest of Melas. It being as the only Mela organized at the confluence of three holy rivers – Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, adds much to its religious significance.
In Haridwar the Kumbh is organized on the banks of holy river Ganga. The dates are determined when the Sun is in Aries and Jupiter is in Aquarius, falling in the Chaitra Month (March-April). The Haridwar Kumbh Mela is the original and the oldest “Kumbh Mela”, which is being organized on the bank of holy Ganga since as early as 1600s. It is considered as the original Kumbh Mela because it is organized depending on the astronomical sign Kumbha (Aquarius).
In Nashik the Kumbh Mela is organized on the banks of Godavari River, based on the position of Jupiter in Leo, or Jupiter, Sun and Moon in cancer, coinciding with Amavasya. The Nashik Simhastha Kumbh falls in the Hindu calendar month of Bhadra (August-September).
Initially the Nashik Kumbh was held at Trimbakeshwar – a municipal council in Nashik district. In 1789 a clash ensued between the disciples of Vaishno (revering Lord Vishnu) sect and Shaivism sect (revering Lord Shiva) over the precedence of bathing. Since then the bathing place of Vaishnavites has been shifted to Ramkund in Nashik city.
Ujjain Kumbh is celebrated when sun lies in Aries and Jupiter in Leo; or Jupiter, sun and Moon in Libra on Kartik Amavasya, which usually falls in the month of Vaisakha (April-May). The Ujjain Kumbh is also called Simhastha Kumbh as it is observed when Jupiter is in the Leo. Leo is called Simha in Hindu astrology.
According to a medieval Hindu belief, Vishnu spilled the drops of Amrit (drink of immortality) in the rivers at the four present sites of Kumbh Mela.
The story goes like this – Once the Gods and demons were churning the ocean (samudra manthan) for amrita. When the pot (Kumbh) of Amrit emerged, a fight ensued between the Gods and demons for its possession. In the mean time Hindu God Dhanvantri (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) got hold of the pot and flew away with it. It is believed that he spilled Amrit at the four places where Kumbh Melas are presently organized. Hindus believe that bathing in the sacred rivers at these locations will make them attain immortality and spiritual enlightenment.
Kumbh Mela History – Evolution
Though, various Hindu texts including Puranas dating back from 3rd century CE to 10th century CE mention the samudra manthan (churning of ocean), it didn’t mention the spilling of the nectar at the present locations of Kumbh Mela. Historians believe that the concept of Vishnu spilling the nectar (Amrit) from a pot (Kumbh) at Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain, is added recently to provide scriptural validation.
Historical texts like Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh (1695 CE) and Chahar Gulshan (1759 CE) also mentions the fairs held at Ujjain, Nashik and Prayagraj (Allahabad). The Magh fair at Prayagraj is the oldest fair and the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar is the original and the oldest of Kumbh Melas. The fairs at Prayagraj, Nashik and Ujjain came to be known as “Kumbh Mela” sometime in the recent history.
The Kumbh Mela of Prayagraj is mentioned by Hiuen Tsang – a Chinese traveler. He described a ritual organized by Emperor Harsha in Prayagraj at the confluence of two rivers, though the exact term “Kumbh Mela” was not used. This constituted the earliest mention of any religious conglomeration in around 644 CE, in which millions of devotees gathered to wash their sins at exactly the same location of present day fair. The Prayagraj fair is also mentioned in ancient Puranas as an annual event. Some historians conclude that Hiuen Tsang had mentioned a fare organized every 5 years, but not 12 years as in present. Harsha being an emperor, also validate the speculation that the gathering was of Buddhist inclination.
The Kumbh Mela organized at Haridwar is considered to be the original as it is organized according to astrological sign “Kumbha” (Aquarius), with many references of a 12 years cycle as is presently practiced.
The documented evidence of Prayagraj Kumbh is obtained in British report of 1868. In the report a reference to a large conglomeration of Hindus to be held in 1870 was made, mentioning the need for sanitation and other amenities. Later, the annual Prayagraj Kumbh Mela was made an event to be held every 12 years, by the priests who wanted to increase the religious significance of their place.
The Ujjain Kumbh was originated in 18th century, when ascetics from Nashik went to Ujjain on the invitation of a Marathi ruler – Ranoji Shinde. Same as in Prayagraj, the priests at Ujjain adopted the traditions of Kumbh, to increase their own fair’s significance.
Types of Kumbh Mela
There are three types of Kumbh Melas following the Hindu calendar, as given below-
1) Maha Kumbh
The Maha Kumbh occurs every 144 years i.e. after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas.
2) Kumbh or Purna Kumbh
The Kumbh Mela or Purna Kumbh Mela occurs at a span of 12 years, at the given locations.
3) Ardh (half) Kumbh
Ardh Kumbh is celebrated at Prayagraj and Haridwar, every six years in between two Purna Kumbh. The government of Uttar Pradesh recently made an announcement naming Ardh Kumbh as “Kumbh Mela” and Purna Kumbh as “Maha Kumbh”.
Significance of Kumbh Melas
Kumbh Melas have historical, religious and spiritual significance for Hindus. The Kumbh Melas also have cultural and commercial significance. Many colonial era travelers have mentioned the events surrounding the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. John Chamberlain, a Baptist Missionary, who visited the Haridwar Kumbh in 1824, described it as the gathering of thousands belonging to different caste, creed or even religions and a majority constituted of traders, who were there to tap the opportunity.
Other accounts of the Haridwar Kumbh Mela have mentioned it to be a huge gathering of people belonging to different trades, culture, religion, sects. Soldiers, merchants, professionals, rich and poor, all attended the fair. Even Sikhs and Muslim Nawabs were visiting the fair.
Thus, the Kumbh Mela played the role of an event of social harmony where millions gathered across the demographic divisions of caste, creed, religion or financial conditions. It also provided a tremendous business opportunity to the traders who came from as far as Middle East – Turkistan, Kabul etc and Persia.
These days the Kumbh Melas have become an amalgamation of different cultures of India and reflect Indian cultures, traditions and values. The event is gathering much attendance in India and abroad, with millions gathering up to take bath in the holy river or to just witness the rituals and events.
Akharas – Prominemt Presence at the Kumbh Melas
The Kumbh Melas are popular for the presence of Akharas, mainly in Prayagraj Kumbh and Ujjain Kumbh. “Akhara” is a Hindi word referring to a warrior sect, which was constituted to fight against the atrocities of Mughal Empire over Indian Hindus. Akharas were initially constituted for self defense but later developed to become fighting armies. Until the advent of British Empire, the Kumbh Melas were organized by the Akharas. The policing and other duties were managed by the Sadhus. The Akharas were highly militarized and were also involved in trading and other practices during the Kumbh Melas.
History is replete with the incidents of violent clashes between different sects of Akharas during the Kumbh Melas. Like the 1760 clash between Shaivites and Vaishnavite at Haridwar, in which hundreds of lives were lost. Similar event was witnessed at Nashik during 1789 Kumbh and again at Haridwar in 1796 Kumbh Mela, with thousands lives lost in both the events. Today Akharas are prominently present in the Kumbh Mela; though, their powers have been considerably reduced by the government and new laws.
Kumbh Mela Rituals
Two of the major rituals of Kumbh Melas are bathing and darshan. Bathing in the holy river on the occasion of Kumbh is considered auspicious by Hindus; confluence of Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati at Prayagraj, Ganga at Haridwar, Shipra in Ujjain and Godavari in Nashik. The ritual holds much importance for Sadhus and various Akharas from across the country. The order of precedence for bathing of Akharas has been fixed – Juna Akhara, Niranjani Akhara and Maha Nirvani Akhara respectively.
Various activities like religious preaching; singing devotional songs are witnessed in the Kumbh Mela. Community feeding for poor and pilgrims are also organized by the Akharas and other relevant agencies. Sadhus are seen in their traditional attire and a rub of Vibhuti (sacred ash) on their forehead as well as on the rest of body.
Naga Sadhus belonging originally to the North Eastern state of Nagaland are popular in Kumbh Melas; they stay completely naked wearing only Bhasm over their body. Another important ritual of Kumbh Mela is darshan of Sadhus. Darshan means visual exchange between the devotees and the revered Sadhus. Sadhus lead a secret secluded life, except during Kumbh Melas when they are accessible to the general public. People interact with Sadhus from different Akharas and listen to their views or teachings.