Thursday 1st March, 2007

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A gathering of millions

  • Kumbh Mela sees largest gathering of human beings on Earth.
  • Hindu pilgrimage occurs four times every 12 years.
  • Ritual bath the major event of festival.

AS secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, I led 18 senior pundits to India from February 2 to attend the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Prayag (Allahabad), India.

The Kumbh Mela witnesses the largest gathering of human beings on Earth over a period of six weeks. The confluence of the three holy rivers, the Ganga, Jumuna and the dried-up Saraswati, is regarded by Hindus from time immemorial as a most divine spot on Earth to offer prayers and to have ritual bath.

Colonial historians have recorded that the Saraswati is only a mythical river that existed in the minds and imagination of Hindus. With technological advances, however, satellite imaging has clearly established the dried-up riverbed of the mighty and holy Saraswati River.

The archeological excavation at the ancient cites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro clearly indicate that the population of these cities that were located on the banks of the Saraswati abandoned their homes when the Saraswati dried up.

Archeologists and historians are still researching to discover why this mighty river ceased to flow. Whether the course of the river was changed by some unrecorded major earthquake or other movements in the land is still being investigated. What we do know, however, is that the waters of the Saraswati met with the waters of the Ganga and the Jumuna at Pryag Raj.

The 2001 Kumbh Mela was reported as the largest religious gathering on Earth. Around 70 million people from around the world participated at the holy city of Prayag (India) in 2001.

Kumbh Mela (Pitcher Festival) is a Hindu pilgrimage that occurs four times every 12 years and rotates among four locations: Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Each 12-year cycle includes one Maha Kumbh Mela (Great Kumbh Mela) at Prayag, which is attended by tens of millions of people, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complained upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.”

The precise dates of the Kumbh Mela are astronomically determined, based upon precise calculations of the positions of the sun, the moon and Jupiter. At Prayag, the Maha Kumbh Mela is held in the month of Magha (January/February in the Gregorian calendar).

The highest spiritual merit is attached to bathing on the new moon day, Amavasya, when Jupiter is in Taurus and both the sun and moon are in Capricorn.

At Haridwar, the Kumbh Mela is held in the months of Phalgun and Chaitra (February/March/April), when the sun passes to Aries, the moon is in Sagittarius and Jupiter is in Aquarius.

In Ujjain, the festival is held in the month of Vaishakha (May), when other planets are in Libra, the sun and moon are in Aries and Jupiter is in Leo.

At Nashik, the Kumbh Mela takes place in the month of Sharvana (July), when the sun and moon are in Cancer and Jupiter is in Scorpio.

It is also believed that the elixir of life is filled in a kumbh (pot) in Swarg (Heaven) so with certain combinations of sun-moon-Jupiter the elixir falls from Heaven to Earth, and Kumbh Mela is held at those locations.

Another legend tells that the observance of Kumbh Mela is based upon the belief that thousands of years ago, gods and demons made a temporary agreement to work together churning amrita (the nectar of immortality) from the Ksheera Sagarar (primordial ocean of milk), and to share the nectar equally. However, when the kumbh (urn) containing the amrita appeared, the demons ran away with it and were chased by the gods.

For 12 days and 12 nights (equivalent of 12 human years), the gods and demons fought in the sky for possession of this pot of amrita. It is said that during the battle, drops of amrita fell at four places: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Thus the Kumbh Mela is observed at these four locations.

The major event of this festival is a ritual bath on the banks of the rivers in each town. Other activities include religious discussion, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardised.

Every six years there is an Ardh (or half) Mela at Prayag (Allahabad). The actual dates are dependent on stellar constellations. It is this six-year event that the Maha Sabha is attending.

Satnarayan Maharaj is the

secretary general of the

Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha


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