Domain:Social practices, rituals and festive events
Kumbh Mela or Kumbha Mela is a mass congregation of pilgrims who gather to take a bath/dip in a sacred river. The geographical location for the Kumbh Mela spans across four cities within India. In Maharashtra, it is held in Nashik with the site of observation being the banks of sacred river Godavari.
It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. A ritual bath at a predetermined time and place is the major event of the festival, called the Shahi Snan. It is celebrated four times every 12 years, the site of the observation rotating between four pilgrimages on the four sacred rivers at Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Ardha (half) Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Haridwar and Allahabad, every sixth year. And a Maha Kumbh is held after every 144 years.
The festival of Kumbh is not a festival of market or fair, instead it is a festival of knowledge, asceticism and devotion. People from every religion and caste are present in the festival in one form or the other, and it takes the shape of a mini India. Different types of languages, traditions, cultures, dresses, food and ways of living can be seen at the festival. It is amazing that is that millions of people reach the place without any invitation. Kumbha is a Sanskrit word for pitcher, referred to as Kalasha. It is also a zodiac sign in Indian astrology, the sign under which the festival is celebrated. Kumbh is also the human body; the sun, earth , sea and Vishnu (a Hindu God) are its synonyms. The elemental meaning of Kumbh says that it’s a confluence of all cultures, and is a symbol of spiritual awakening. While Mela means a gathering or meet or simply, a fair. To understand the significance of the Kumbha Mela and the important role that it plays in the spirituality of India, it is imperative to know the background of the sacred Ganga (Ganges) River. The devout believe that simply by bathing in the Ganga one is freed from their past sins (karma), and, thus, one becomes eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Of course, it is said that a pure lifestyle is also required after taking bath, otherwise one will again be burdened by karmic reactions .The pilgrims come from all walks of life, travelling long distances and tolerating many physical discomforts, such as sleeping in the open air in near freezing weather. They undergo such difficulties just to receive the benefit of taking a bath in the sacred river at Kumbha Mela and to meet the great saints.
Kumbh Mela is a congregation kalpavasis, sadhus, visitors and aspirants, mostly Hindus. But the traditional bearers are the holy men, the ascetics, saints, the sadhus , sadhvis who have renounced worldly life to follow an exclusive life of religion. These ascetics either belong to religious organisations, Ashrams and Akhadas or are individuals living on alms. There are 13 Akhadas in India with their own respective Presidents or Mahants. The respective Presidents of these Akhadas are the first ones who take the dip or bathe in the holy river during the Kumbh, and with their bath the Kumbh Mela proceedings begin. These ascetics are generally male. Though women ascetics or Sadhvis belonging to various Ashrams and Akhadas are also present in large numbers, and they participate in the Kumbh Mela with equal zest and enthusiasm. As the upholders of the tradition, there are various Temple Trust organisations like Trimbakeshwar Temple Trust of Nashik , Organisations or Sabhas like Ganga Sabha of Haridwar and Civil Societies or Non Governmental Organisations like Godavari Gatarikaran Virodhi Manch of Nashik, who not only assist in facilitating the festival but contribute largely in making the festival a success. Apart from the Mela being attended by millions of devotees and visitors, the government and administration of the respective state and city is also an integral part of the Mela.