KUMBH MELA: THE FESTIVAL OF IMMORTALITY

Kumbh Mela is one of the most ancient, yet still living, traditions of India’s glorious past.

The festival dates back the pre-Vedic period, as even in the Vedas Kumbh Mela is described as a tradition that is already well established.  The popularity of Kumbh Mela has only increased over the millennia, gathering millions together every twelve years at each of the four holy places in which the auspicious event occurs and making it the world’s largest gathering of people on Earth for one common purpose.  It is said that even those saints and sages who live in divine isolation, high in the Himalayas, engaged only in meditation and austerities, emerge from the mountains to attend the Kumbh.  Kumbh is a world-renowned trademark of India’s proud antiquity, and is a matchlessly divine occasion, one of the largest festivals/fairs in the Hindu tradition.

Spanning from the 15th January to 4th March, 2019’s Kumbh Mela will take place in Prayag (the City of God), also known as Prayagraj, a divine location situated on the confluence of three sacred rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati.

Kumbh Mela is a microcosm of the beauty and rich diversity of India.  One author describes the Kumbh Mela:

“To watch the Kumbh Mela Processions is to witness the march of the ages. As the holy saints pass by on their various and sundry conveyances — elephants, horses, palanquins, chariots, cars, and camels — they are continually transmitting waves of powerful shakti (energy) to all the people who witness this awe-inspiring and most auspicious event. Devotees are overwhelmed by the palpable spiritual vibrations that pervade the entire atmosphere.

While the parade of saints marches towards the Ganges River, the sounds baffle all description — the shout and cries of ash-smeared sadhus mingle with the neighing of horses, trumpeting of elephants, grunting of camels, bellowing of bulls. Gongs and drums beat, trumpets blare, conch shells blow and bells ring.”

Yet, amidst all the pomp and liveliness, one can also drink in the nectar of India’s ancient spiritual traditions.  No matter where you go within the Mela, there will be people sitting in satsang with India’s saints and sages, bathing in the sacred rivers, meditating at the banks, engaging in yogic practices and attending yoga classes, chanting mantras and singing bhajans.  Even the 330 million gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are said to attend the Mela on the inner planes.  Every corner of the Mela is permeated with ancient tradition and spirituality.

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

 “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint 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…”

A new “city” is erected at the time of the Kumbh Mela, a literal city of tents to house the millions of pilgrims who flock there.  Next year, 150 million pilgrims are expected to arrive in Prayag Raj for the occasion.

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Background of Kumbh Mela from Hindu Scriptures

The origin of Kumbh Mela lies in the beautiful story of the time when the Gods and demons churned the ocean in search of the nectar of immortality.

The Meaning of Kumbh Mela

“Kumbh” literally means a pitcher.  The reference is to the pot which emerged after the Gods and demons churned the milky ocean, filled with the nectar of immortality.  However, the symbolism inherent when we speak of “Kumbh Mela” far transcends the literal translation.

Significance of Kumbh Mela Today

Kumbh allows people to come out of this mechanistic and materialistic life and develop a bond of love with others without any discrimination of caste, creed and color.  Thus, an important aspect of Kumbh Mela is the incredible unity amidst diversity that occurs at these sacred occasions.