What is Kumbh Mela?

Posted by Crooked Compass

Kumbh Mela is the largest religious gathering in the world! According to astrologers, the 'Kumbh Fair' takes place when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries.

Kumbh Mela sunset, Crooked Compass
Kumbh Mela sunset

Kumbha (Kumbha means pot) Mela (means fair) is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage that takes place at the following four locations of India:

  • Prayag - Allahabad (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) at the confluence of three holy rivers - Ganga (Ganges),
  • Yamuna and mythical Saraswati Haridwar - (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) where the river Ganga enters the plains from Himalayas
  • Ujjain - (in Madhya Pradesh), on the banks of Shipra river
  • Nasik - (in Maharashtra) on the banks of Godavari river

Kumbh Mela crowds Crooked COmpass
Kumbh Mela crowds

The pilgrimage occurs four times every twelve years, once at each of the four locations. Legend has it that in the mythological times, during a waging war between the demigods and demons for the possession of nectar of eternal life, a few drops of it had fallen on to four places that are today known as Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.

It is believed that these drops gave mystical powers to these places. The normal Kumbh Mela is held every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag) while the Purna (complete) Kumbh mela takes place every twelve years, at four places Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik, based on planetary movements.

Kumbh Mela celebrations, Crooked compass
Kumbh Mela celebrations

The Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag after 144 years (after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas'). Depending on what position the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter hold in that period in different zodiac signs, the venue for Kumbh Mela is decided.

The most recent Kumbh Mela was in 2016 in Ujjain and around 70 millions of pilgrims took a holy dip in river Shipra. The main bathing days for the Kumbh Mela are: Makar Sankranti, Paush Purnima, Mauni Amavasya, Basant Panchmi, Maghi Poornima and Maha Shivratri.

Kumbh Mela, Sadhu, Crooked Compass
Kumbh Mela, Sadhu, Crooked Compass

Kumbh Mela is the only occasion to observe the holy men of India. It can be safely said that this is a conference of all major & minor sadhus, gurus & holy men. They come from all across India’s vast rural backyard, cities, clearings in dense forests and remote ice- bound heights of the Himalayas. They can be categorised into two broad groups of Vaishnavas or followers of Vishnu or followers of Shiva. Of the various sects & sub sects the most ferocious and exotic are the Nagas, the militant wing which prefers to live by their ritual fires, covered in ashes, with matted hair flowing to the ground.

Naga Sadhus or Hindu Holymen take a dip during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at the ongoing "Kumbh Mela", or Pitcher Festival, in the northern Indian city of Allahabad January 14, 2013. Upwards of a million elated Hindu holy men and pilgrims took a bracing plunge in India's sacred Ganges river to wash away lifetimes of sins on Monday, in a raucous start to an ever-growing religious gathering that is already the world's largest.
Naga Sadhus or Hindu Holymen take a dip during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at the ongoing "Kumbh Mela". Upwards of a million elated Hindu holy men and pilgrims took a bracing plunge in India's sacred Ganges river to wash away lifetimes of sins , in a raucous start to an ever-growing religious gathering that is already the world's largest.

Irrespective of all worldly barriers of caste, creed, region, and sect, the Kumbh Mela has wielded a mesmeric influence over the minds and the imagination of not only the ordinary Indian but also great men such as Mhatma Gandhi. His own words on Pooran Kumbh held in 1915.

“The day of the fair was now upon us. It proved a redletter day for me. I had not gone to Hardvar with the sentiments of a pilgrim. I have never thought of frequenting places of pilgrimage in search of piety. But the seventeen lakhs of men that were reported to be there could not all be hypocrites or mere sight-seers. I had no doubt that countless people amongst them had gone there to earn merit and for self-purification. It is difficult, if not impossible, to say to what extent this kind of faith uplifts the soul.”

What happens at Kumbh?

What happens at Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela Cycle

Interested in joining the next Kumbh Mela? Check out our small group tour here!