Hindus all around the world are known to celebrate festivals with much passion and fervour, sometimes to express joy and hope and sometimes to appease the gods in the hope of attaining salvation. The Kumbh Mela, held every three years, is one such festival, a pilgrimage of faith for Hindus looking to wash their past sins. The mela, which is the world’s largest gathering of its type, draws lakhs of bhakts (devotees) from all over the country and around the globe.
With the Kumbh Mela currently happening in Ujjain (April 22 to May 21), here are a few facts on what makes this festival so unique:
1. The Kumbh Mela is held every three years, and switches between four different locations – Haridwar (river Ganga), Prayag (Triveni sangam of Yamuna, Ganga and Saraswati), Ujjain (river Kshipra), and Nasik (river Godavari). The mela returns to each location after a span of 12 years.
2. ‘Kumbh’ literally means nectar. The story behind the mela goes back to the time when the gods (devas) used to reside on earth. Sage Durvasa’s curse had weakened them, and the asuras (demons) caused havoc in the world.
3. Lord Brahma advised them to churn out the nectar of immortality with the help of the asuras. When the asuras got to know of the devas plan to not share the nectar with them, they chased them for 12 days. During the chase, some of the nectar fell at the four locations mentioned above.
4. The Kumbh Mela is held on the dates when the waters of these sacred rivers are said to turn into nectar. The exact dates are calculated according to a combination of zodiac positions of Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon.
5. Hindus believe that those who bathe in the sacred waters during the Kumbh are eternally blessed by the divine. All their sins are washed away and they come one step closer to salvation.
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6. The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013 attracted a record crowd of approximately 10 crore people!
7. Several holy men from different Hindu sects attend the mela, such as the Nagas (who do not wear any clothes), Kalpwasis (who bathe thrice a day) and Urdhawavahurs (who believe in putting the body through severe austerities). They come to the mela to perform sacred rituals pertaining to their respective groups.
8. The festival is over 2000 years old! The first written evidence of the mela can be found in the accounts of the Chinese traveller Xuanzang, who visited India during the reign of King Harshavardhana.
9. The mela creates approximately 650,000 jobs and was estimated to earn around Rs 12,000 crore in 2013 too!
10. For the 2013 mela, officials set up 14 temporary hospitals, staffed with 243 doctors, more than 40,000 toilets, and stationed 50,000 police officials to maintain order.