“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. A Kumbh Mela indicates the beginning of an auspicious and holy event. A full-Kumbh also signifies knowledge, happiness and bliss. Indian scriptures tell us:
Kalashasya mukhe vishnu kanthe rudra samaashritah
Muletvasya sthito brahmaa madhye maatriganaah smritaah
Kukshau tu saagaraah sarve sapta dvipaa vasundharaa
Hrigvedo yajurvedo saamavedohrytharvanah
Angaishca saritaah sarve kalasham tu samaashritaah
The above Sanskrit shlokas tell us that the trinity of gods – Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer and Shiva the Destroyer– in addition to all the Goddesses, Mother Earth with Her seven islands, and all knowledge in the form of the Rigveda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda exist in Kumbh. Thus, Kumbh is the symbol of all that is, and all that exists. The Kumbh Mela is a celebration, a festival of the glory of Kumbh. It is a celebration of all knowledge and all life.
Kumbh Mela stands for the source of divine beauty and knowledge. Since time immemorial, the Indian and Hindu cultures have been concerned about the welfare of the entire planet. Even in the mythology, the Kumbh Mela meant distribution – not hoarding – of the nectar.
However, while “Kumbh” refers to an overflowing pot, it also refers to a body filled with knowledge. So, the nectar of the Kumbh Mela also manifests in the form of knowledge, which liberates us while we are still living. The nectar – or knowledge of divinity – lies within this Kumbh (of our body); it must only be churned to the surface.
Furthermore, the symbolism of the planetary alignment necessary for Kumbh Mela to occur is deeply poignant. In Hindu culture, the Sun and the moon are representative of human rational intellect and mind, and Jupiter – known as “Guru” in Sanskrit – is the spiritual master. Thus, as the arrangement of these three planetary bodies decide when Kumbh Mela occurs, it is representative of the philosophy that when the human intellect and mind are aligned with the Guru, the result is the realization of immortality.
So, it is due to the faith of the people and the thoughtfulness of our seers that this holy occasion is named “Kumbh Mela.”