By Swami Harshananda
Kumbhamelā is the biggest religious fair of the whole world and held once in 12 years. As per a legend widely believed by the devouts, the Amṛta Kumbha or the pot of nectar that emerged out of the milky ocean during its churning was carried away by Jayanta, the son of Indra. He carried it to heaven because it was highly pursued by the asuras or demons. This whole process took him 12 days of the gods. Jayanta is said to have dropped a little of it in four places:
- Prayāga (Allahabad) - in Uttar Pradesh
- Haradvāra or Haridvāra (now Hardwar) - in Uttaranchal
- Ujjayini - in Madhya Pradesh
- Nāsik - in Maharashtra
That is why the Kumbhamelā fair is held, once in 12 years, in all these places by turns.
During the period of Māghamelā, hundreds of persons live on the banks of the river practicing austerities. This is called ‘Kalpavāsa’. The rituals comprised in this are:
- Taking bath in the river thrice a day
- Living on simple food or even fruits
- Doing japa (repetition of God’s name)
- Giving gifts to deserving persons
On the special days earmarked for the bath like the Makara Saṅkrānti or Maunī Amāvāsyā the pilgrims completely shave themselves. After the ceremonial bath and offering prayers, they make gifts according to their capacities.
Rituals of Kumbhamelā
During the periods of Kumbhamelā thousands of sādhus, sanyāsins, mendicants and religious persons of various denominations, sects and groups congregate at the sites of the melā. All of them organize the following in their camp:
- Ceremonial processions
- Religious discourses
- Religio-cultural activities
- 12 days of the god are equivalent to 12 human years.
- Māghamelā is a religious festival held in Prayāga during the month of Māgha in January.
- Kirtans means devotional songs.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore