I have just returned from the pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj. Where, I even dared to take a dip at Sangam in this biting cold. Sangam happens to be the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. It is a blissful experience, to see so many Hindus gathered in such vast numbers. And this is when, one takes time off to think of the grip of faith, coming down from time primordial.
Kumbha derives its name from both the original festival, being held according to the astrological sign “Kumbha” (Aguarius) and from the associated Hindu legend in which the Gods and demons fought over a pot, or a ‘Kumbh’ of nectar, that would give them immortality. A later addition to the legend says that after taking the pot, one of the Gods, spilled drops of nectar in four places where ‘Kumbha Mela’ is presently held. This is not found in the earliest mentions of the original legend of Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean) as described in various ancient Hindu texts collectively known as the Puranas.
The legend of Samudra Manthan tells of a battle between the Devas (benevolent deities) and Asuras (malevolent demigods) for amrita, the nectar drink of immortality. During samudra manthan, amrita was produced and placed in a Kumbha (pot). To prevent the asuras from seizing the amrita, a divine carrier flew away with the pot. In one of the most popular versions added to the original legend later, the carrier of the kumbha is the divine physician Dhanvantari, who stops at four places where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated. In other later additions to the legend, for which clarification is needed the carrier is Garuda, Indra or Mohini, who spill the amrita at four places.
An entire temporary township covering 2,500 hectares has been constructed, at a cost of several thousand crores. In 2013, the last Kumbha, attracted, 120 million visitors , with 30 million congregating on a single day, Mauni Amawasya, making it the largest human gathering of the world. The Kumbh Mela is held at fixed cycles.
It is said that by bathing at the Sangam, during Kumbha, Moksha or salvation. It is for this reason that Mark Twain—who visited the Kumbha in 1895 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.”
Since the dawn of time Kumbha has been a matter of great faith and faith indeed can move mountains.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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