“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, marvellous to our kind of people, the cold whites.”
This is what Mark Twain wrote when he visited the Maha Kumbh Mela in 1895.Rivers have always held a special place in Hindu mythology, as these are considered to be the carriers of life and fertility. Hence, the rivers have always remained a part of major festivals in India.
Legends has it that in the mythological times, during a war between the demigods and demons for the possession of an eternal life, a few drops of it had fallen on to four places that are today known as Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik and have mystical powers. And it is to make oneself gain those powers that Kumbh Mela has been celebrated in each of the four places since long as one can remember. The normal Kumbh Mela is held every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag) while the Purna (complete) Kumbh Mela takes place every twelve years, at four places Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik, based on planetary movements.
According to planetary movements, Ardha Kumbh Mela takes place when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and Sun enters Aries. Ardha Kumbh destination this year and the gateway to heaven in ancient mythological scriptures, Haridwar, is one of the top pilgrimage centres. Located on the banks of River Ganges, it is the place where river Ganga descends to the Indo-Gangetic plains after flowing for about 250 kilometres from its source at Gaumukh, Gangotri Glacier.
Rituals – Be it any form of Kumbh, it witnesses a huge inflow of devotees from all over the country to visit this grand affair. While the major event of the festival is a ritual bath at the banks of the rivers, other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men, women and poor and religious assemblies. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with plenty of ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the requirements of ancient traditions. In Haridwar, Brahma Kund in Har – Ki – Pauri is believed to be a spot where the Amrit fell and is considered to be the most sacred ghat. Some of the other bathing ghats that witness huge crowds and poojas include Asthi Parvath Ghat, Gau Ghat, Kangra Ghat, Sati Ghat and Daksheshwar Ghat.
Important Bathing (Snan) dates for Ardh-Kumbh 2016 are –
- 14th January – Makar Sankranti
- 12th February – Basant Panchami
- 22nd February – Magh Purnima
- 7th March –Maha Shivratri
- 7th April – Chaitra Amavasya
- 8th April – Chaitrya Shula Pratipada
- 14th April – Mesh Sankranti
- 15th April – Ram Navami
- 22nd April – Chaitra Shukla Purnima
Such madness comes with a power, a power of faith, a power of tolerance, a power of endurance and a power of hope. The congregation of millions gathered together binds them with a promise of “An eternal life free of sins”, which has made what Kumbh is today.
* While there is still time for Ujjain’s Maha Kumbh Mela in April this year, Ardha Kumbh Mela is all set to witness its first holy dip of the event in Haridwar (Uttarakhand) on Thursday, January 14th on account of Makar Sankranti this year.