Everything You Need To Know About The Kumbh Mela

You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen the pictures, you’ve been subjected to its praise from your religious uncles and aunties, but what exactly is it? We’ll break it down for you.

What is the Kumbh Mela?

The Kumbh Mela, simply put, is a marvel. It is the largest peaceful, religious gathering in the world with around 100 million Hindus meeting at the designated place to wash off their sins at the confluence of the three holy rivers; the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The festival is frequented by devotees and saints alike.

Naga Sadhu Kumbh Mela
A Naga Sadhu at the Kumbh Mela. Photograph by Amit Ray

What’s the story behind it?

In Sanskrit, Kumbh means pitcher, and a pitcher does in fact play an important role in the origin of this festival. According to Hindu mythology, the gods were cursed and began to lose their powers. Lord Vishnu suggested that to regain their power they should churn the ocean of milk to make Amrit, since the gods were few, they were forced to seek help from the demons, asuras. After twelve days of churning, they managed to create a pitcher of amrit, but a fight soon broke out between the gods and the demons. The gods called on Lord Vishnu to help who, disguised as Mohini, flew away with the pitcher of amrit.

Image source: kumbhmela.org
The battle of the devtas and the asuras. Image source: kumbhmela.org

Where and when?

It is believed that during the tussle for the pitcher of amrit, a few drops fell on four holy cities; Prayag, Ujjain, Nasik and Haridwar, and that’s where the festival takes place. The Mela happens every three years at one of these places, depending on the position of the stars.

The festival is a 58 days long celebration, marked with three holy dips, or shahi snans, and it is believed that a dip in the holy waters cleanses you of all your sins and offers you a fresh start.

Photograph by Sylvain Brajeul
The Kumbh Mela at Haridwar. Photograph by Sylvain Brajeul

So, when’s the next festival?

There’s actually one underway right now, the 2015 Kumbh Mela is being held at Nasik. The festival is about a month and half long, it started on the 14th of July and will go on till 25th September, which means that you’re not too late to witness it!

The first Snan (bath) was on 26th August, and the first Shahi Snan (royal bath) was on the 29th of August, but you still have three more chances to cleanse yourself at the holy Sangam.

Photograph by Dipesh Dey
Devotees at the Sangam; confluence of the three holy rivers. Photograph by Dipesh Dey

The itinerary of the festival is as follows:

  • 14th July 2015 (Tuesday): Flag hoisting of the main ceremony at Ram Kunda
  • 14th August 2015 (Friday): Flag hoisting of the Akhara at Sadhugram
  • 26th August 2015 (Wednesday): Shravan Shudha- First Snan
  • 29th August 2015 (Saturday): Shravan Purnima – First Shahi Snan at Ram Kunda
  • 13th September 2015 (Sunday): Bhadrapad Amavasya – Second Shahi Snan/ Main bathing day
  • 18th September 2015 (Friday): Bhadrapad Shukla Panchmi (Rushipanchami) – Third Shahi Snan
  • 25th September 2015 (Friday): Bhadrapad Shukla Dwadashi – Vaman Dwadashi Snan

For more information on the Kumbh Mela 2015, refer to http://www.kumbhamela.net/

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