Millennium Post

Moksha at kumbh mela

Moksha at kumbh mela
After my trip to Varanasi, I  was destined for the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is the world’s largest religious gathering. It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayag), Nasik and Ujjain. Thus the Maha Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every 12th year. Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Hardwar and Allahabad, every 6th year. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Shipra at Ujjain. The Magh (Kumbh) Mela is one of the greatest annual religious affairs for Hindus.

Hindu mythology considers the origin of the Magh Mela to be the beginning of the Universe. An important occasion, the Magh (Kumbh) Mela is held every year on the banks of Triveni Sangam (the confluence of the three great rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati) in Prayag near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. In accordance with the traditional Hindu calendar followed in North India, this holy fair is organised every year during the Hindu month of Magh (corresponding to mid January – mid February of the Gregorian calendar); hence the name.

The Magh Mela is, however, not confined only to the month of Magh and the important bathing dates are spread over a period of 45 days. The Magh Mela is actually a smaller version of Kumbh Mela. Hence it is also known as mini Kumbh Mela. Every year, the Magh Mela commences on the day of Makkar Sankranti in January, which is the first important bathing day according to the religious Hindu calendar. It begins with multitudes of pilgrims taking a holy dip at the Sangam on auspicious dates, which include Makar Sakranti, Paush Purnima, Mauni Amavasya, Basant Panchami, Maghi Purnima and Maha Shivratri.  A large number of people arrive here annually and stay in makeshift cottages or tents at the Sangam provided by the Uttar Pradesh government, spending the entire month of Magh in prayers. This period is known as ‘Kalpvas’. Those who religiously observe the ‘Kalpvas’ are known as ‘Kalpvasis’. The ancient Hindu Vedas mention a ‘Kalp’ to be the period equal to the total number of years in the four yugas – Satyug, Treta, Dwapar and Kalyug.

This adds up to several millions of years. It is said that by piously observing a ‘Kalpavas’, a devotee overcomes the sins in his/her previous birth and escapes the cycle of Janma (birth) and Karma (actions). During each day of the Magh Mela, a Kalpvasi has to honour the Brata by taking a dip in the Ganges at sunrise and praying to the rising sun. Majority of the Kalpvasis partake of only a meal a day. After observing 12 Kalpavas, a Kalpavasi has to donate his/her bed and all his belongings (a ritual known as Shayya Daan). The Uttar Pradesh government annually makes special arrangements for the devotees during this time. A greater number of buses ply to let the pilgrims have their journey in peace and without any inconvenience. A township of tents specially come up on the banks of the Sangam to provide shelter to the visiting millions who turn up from all over the country. Adequate medical and security arrangements are made to avoid any untoward incidents.

‘Lost and Found’ camps are also set up and manned by the local police to prevent anyone getting missing during the days of the fair. Every 12th year, the Magh Mela is transformed into the Kumbha Mela and UP is flooded with millions of pilgrims who arrive to attend this grand event.

After a bus ride of four hours I reached Allahabad where I had booked a guest house. The bus had to cross a bridge across Ganga, the site of the Kumbha Mela. At night I could only see its lights and imagine the size but I didn't know that a much bigger surprise was awaiting me the next morning.
After getting into the guesthouse and seeing its condition, it became very difficult to decide what to do... stay or not stay there. After a lot of calls here and there and some drama, I finally settled in. After all my agenda was not luxury but the Kumbha...

For the next two days I caught the early bus at 6 am to reach the mela by 6:30. But it used to take another 20-30 minutes walk from the bus stop to the Sangam through the walkways inside the pop-up megacity. I was awestruck when I first stepped into this city. It was a true mega city (covering a total area of 5000 acres), with tent houses of akharas, ashrams, hospitals, cafe, resorts, police stations and much more The complete area was lit up by some 25,000 lights and more than 2,000 miles of cables. Kumbha starts from 14 January and continues for 45 days, with around 100 million people taking the holy dip last year, much higher than the population of many countries!

I had heard but now saw with my own eyes that Kumbh is not just a mela and neither is it comparable with anything else. Its a congregation of humanity in all its glory and is all about faith, tradition and emotions which are typical of Indians.

But such is the strength of these feelings that many foreigners are now drawn to our culture. There are many stories of foreigners coming here in search of peace and then opting to stay back long-term.

Non-believers might remain non-believers, but once the Kumbh is over, they would be lying if they claim that there were no moments during the mela when their scepticism was not challenged.
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