Kumbh Mela (Kumbh means pot and Mela means fair) is considered so powerful that it has been an ancient rite of initiation of yogis for eons.
It attracts millions of people from all walks of life the world over. It is considered the single most important pilgrimage, and it only happens once every 12 years when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius, and the Sun enters Aries. It is believed that these planetary positions create very positive vibrations that actually medicate the river water on these auspicious days making incredible purification possible during this unique ritual. Kumbh Mela is the largest group of humans to gather in one place. Their purpose is to take a holy ritual bath, together with ash-smeared Naga Babas, Sadhus, robed saints, hymn-chanting priests, yogis and preachers. The Naga Babas hold the distinction of bathing first, and all others are invited to take the holy bath after them.
This holy bath ritual takes place in Haridwar, one of 4 very holy sites.
Prayag, Allahabad (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) at the confluence of three holy rivers – Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna and 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, and Nasik (in Maharashtra) on the banks of Godavari river.
The origin of the festival is very old and dates back to the time of the story of creation, or the churning of the primordial sea. There was a tense war between the gods and demons over possession of the nectar of immortality. To prevent the nectar or ‘Amrita Kalasha’ being taken by the more powerful demons, its safety was entrusted to the gods who are also planets, Jupiter, the Sun, the Moon and Saturn.
These four planets ran away with the nectar to hide it from the demons. The demons turned ferocious when learning of this conspiracy and chased the 4 planets running with the nectar. The chase lasted 12 days and nights during which the gods and demons went round the earth. During this chase, some nectar spilled out at the locations of Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain and Nasik, the sacred river sites.
Therefore, every 12 years, this holy event is commemorated at the above 4 sites when the three planets Jupiter, Sun and Moon are in the below said signs.
Haridwar – Aquarius, Aries, Sagittarius
Prayag (Allahabad)- Taurus, Capricorn, Capricorn
Nasik- Leo, Cancer, Cancer
Ujjain- Leo, Aries, Aries
The main attraction is to take a Holy Dip or bath but there are also activities like discourses, devotional singing, and mass feeding of the holy-men, holy-women and the poor.
All the pilgrims believe that if performed at the exact prescribed time they will be purified of their sins and all their prayers will be answered, that they will shuffle off this mortal coil. Purity is essential to access Light.
The Naga Babas (naked holy men and also some holy women) aim to emulate shiva, the Lord of Consciousness, who when naked, symbolizes his primal condition and non attachment to the world. They regard shiva’s pure consciousness as the ultimate austerity. They are naked in their innocence and shave their heads symbolizing an infant taking its final birth and rub their body with ashes from their holy fires as the symbol of death and rebirth. They live high up in the Himalayas, renouncing the ordinary world to live in the extraordinary world of higher consciousness and direct experience of spirit. Yet they voluntarily leave their caves or hidden forest locations and begin a long trek across parts of India to rendezvous for Kumbh Mela. They are drawn to be present so as to be part of this auspicious planetary shift.
Water has a central place in all the practices and beliefs for two main reasons. First, water cleanses. Water washes away impurity. Water not only prepares objects for ritual use, but can also make a person spotless, outwardly or spiritually, thereby preparing him/her for spiritual practice and worship. Second, water is a primary building block of life. Without water there is no life, yet water has the power to destroy as well. We are at the mercy of water to live or die just as we are at the mercy of our God/ Gods.
Ritual practices done in sacred rivers are thought to be a great equalizer of the inequalities between people. Through the rivers, the pure are made more pure and the impure have their negativity or impurities removed. In the sacred water all distinctions of higher or lower born, rich and poor count for nothing, as all sins fall away regardless of status. These 4 places where the rituals are done are believed to be where drops of amrita – the nectar of immortality – fell to earth during the heavenly conflict (when the 4 planets sought to keep the nectar from the demons).
The ultimate goal of this Kumbh Mela festival is salvation and liberty from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth. As this pilgrimage is the single most important pilgrimage, people from all over the world make their arrangements years in advance.