The unwavering faith speaks volumes. The celebration of spirituality finds its highest level. The humanity adds the much needed charm to it. I am talking about the world’s largest peaceful religious gathering named Kumbh Mela. To be honest, attending the Kumbh Mela was never on my “To Do List”. I was refraining from attending it due to the overwhelming mass gathering. When I got invited by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism and Lonely Planet India to attend the Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019 in Prayagraj, I knew that this was a perfect opportunity for me to experience it first-hand. In spite of my pre-conceived notions about the Kumbh Mela, I decided to take the plunge and visit it. What I experienced during the Kumbh Mela 2019 in Prayagraj was beyond my imagination. Something which only can be seen, sensed and felt.
The striking fact about the Kumbh Mela is that people from all walks of life, irrespective of their age, caste and creed, come to take a holy dip at the Triveni Sangam. The Sangam is not just a confluence of these three
divine rivers, namely, the majestic Ganga, sacred Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, but rather it is a Sangam of faith, spirituality and humanity. Bathing in the sacred water, at the auspicious time, has been traditionally associated with grant of liberation from the cycle of Birth and death.
This simply shows the ingrained faith in the religious belief system and how an age-old tradition is still celebrated with the highest level of dedication in today’s modern era.
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What is Kumbh Mela & Why is it celebrated?
Kumbh Mela is also known as the “Fair of the Pitcher”, dating back to the pre-historic times. The tales of the origin of Kumbh Mela vary, though the most common tale of the “Samudramanthan” saga by the demons and Gods remain the most dominant one. In the quest for nectar, which would bestow immortality upon those who drank it, both Demons and Gods started churning the cosmic ocean. During the churning, a pot of nectar was found and fight broke out for the possession of the precious pitcher. In order to help the Gods, Vishnu appeared in the form of Mohini to distract the demons from getting the pot of nectar. While distracting the demons, Indra’s son Jayanta took away the pot and during this course of time, four drops spilled from the pot in Ujjain, Haridwar, Nasikand Prayag respectively, sanctifying them forever. Thus, these four places became sacred pilgrimage sites, where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in each of these four places once in every 12 years. It is also said that Adi Shankaracharya started the Kumbh in the eighth century CE to facilitate the meeting of holy men from different religions and to mobilize Hindus to protect their religion.
The time of Kumbh Mela celebration is based on a complex astrological calculation where the alignments of the stars determine the time and place of the Kumbh in each of the four river sites (Ujjain, Haridwar, Nasik and Prayag).
Why should you experience it?
Why do people attend Kumbh Mela?
Why do people make such hue and cry about attending the Kumbh Mela at least once in a lifetime?
What will you get if you take a holy dip at the Sangam?
These were some of the questions that had always been on my mind whenever a discussion around Kumbh Mela used to pop up anywhere. But after attending the Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019 in Prayagraj, my curious mind did get a few answers. The faith does not require logic and that can be seen at the Sangam City of Prayagraj where millions of devotees, pilgrims and tourists gather to take a holy dip to get rid of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
After walking for more than 8 km, crossing pontoon bridge number 18, I reached the area where the Akharas of the Naga Sadhus were located. It was maddeningly crowded. People’s fascination to see the Naga Sadhus and the inquisitiveness to just experience the mega fair, bring millions of people to Kumbh Mela every time.
It’s often said that people do get lost in Kumbh Mela and it came true when I got separated from my group along with my travel blogger friend Abhinav Singh in reality. After a lot of coordination, we reunited with them. But in the whole chaos, my tryst with Naga Sadhus got compromised.
After the day’s stint at the Mela ground, we were ready to witness the Shahi Snaan in the morning where the Naga Sadhus from different Akharas would be taking the royal bath at the Triveni Sangam. Though we were supposed to witness the iconic visuals of the holy dip, some last minute changes made us miss the entire episode. What made my morning was witnessing the huge peaceful gathering of people from different parts of the country, taking a dip on the auspicious occasion of Mauni Amavasya.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the families, including children taking bath in freezing cold water. As I reached the jetty point around 4:30 am, to take a boat to the Sangam, the scene at the Sangam City was eye-arresting. The boats were full and flooded with people; the continuous announcement dominated the peaceful surroundings. The mela ground was dazzling with lights. The sense of time seemed irrelevant. People were offering puja on the bank of the divine rivers; kids were jumping into the water, and families taking a dip together.
The boatmen were busy taking pilgrims to the designated bathing areas. People in groups were arriving with their own arrangement of food and tents. Women were drying sarees on the bank of the river after taking a dip, some were cooking their first meal of the day and a few were clueless in the crowd.
The visuals were overpowering to even sink in as I was standing, observing silently. While the oldest tradition was practiced by millions of devotees, it was a sight only to be witnessed with your naked eyes.
If you ask me why one should experience it, here are a few reasons to convince you.
Witness the largest religious congregation
You will not see such peaceful religious gathering anywhere in the world, but in Kumbh. All said and done, witnessing the mass congregation can restore your faith in the religious beliefs. This is definitely a window to Hinduism. Over the centuries, it has brought together millions of people across the world, irrespective of their cast, class, religion, faith and gender. Saints, philosophers, religious Gurus, scholars, ascetics, and recently the Kinnars found their place in the Kumbh Mela, having come here to practice the highest level of spirituality. Experiencing it yourself gives a proper sense of the festival. It does not matter how much you know about it, read it and have seen it on television. Attend it to believe it.
It is nothing less than a spectacle . Whether it is the tent cities, 14 akharas, Naga sadhus, pilgrims or the influx of millions of people, Kumbh Mela is the best example of religious belief. The best part of the fair is that, in spite of an expected footfall of 150 million devotees, pilgrims and tourists, the Kumbh Mela is well organised. The sanitation and the security facilities at the Ardh Kumbh mela are commendable. I must appreciate the organizing committee and the government for providing facilities like more than 1 lakh mobile toilets, 20,000 dustbins in short distances, around 15,000 sanitation workers, 24*7 vigilance, telephone booths, shuttle buses and CNG auto rickshaws for pilgrims, mobile ATMs, and more than 2000 Ganga Praharis as foot soldiers, etc, making it one of the greatest success stories. The UNESCO has included Kumbh Mela on the Representative List of “Intangible Cultural heritage of humanity”.
Meet the mystical Naga Sadhus
There is a certain kind of aura around the mystical Naga Sadhus.You will experience it once you meet them. They are the ones who have abandoned the worldly possessions, become one with nature, living a life of oblivion. Smeared with holy ash, mostly found in their respective akharas, either meditating or next to their hawan kund, they prefer to be left alone. Most Naga Sadhus lead a nomadic lifestyle, moving in groups from one place to another, make an exception in Kumbh, as rule of the sect don’t permit them to stay in one place for more than three days. One of the most stunning visuals is the Peshwai Procession of the Naga Sadhus, which marks the arrival of the members of akharas at the mela ground. So, whenever you visit Kumbh mela, a visit to these akharas is one of the must do things in order to just observe the mysticism of these saints. Some are friendly enough to strike a conversation, but a few absolutely hate any human contact. I was fortunate enough to meet a few of them, right outside their tents and one of them happened to bless me.
Just experience it
I would have never understood the meaning of deep faith, if I had not attended the Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019. The marriage between the faith and the spirituality, religious thoughts and practices, shared wisdom and the celebration of age old tradition, Kumbh Mela has enriched my understanding of the Hindu way of life.
I have given enough reasons why you should experience the Kumbh Mela at least once in your lifetime. So, do not miss the remaining days of the Ardh Kumbh 2019, ending on 4th March.
Just go and experience it.
1. Be prepared mentally to face the crowd at the Kumbh Mela 2019. If you are travelling in groups, make sure that you are together all the time. There is a high chance of getting lost in the crowd, so it’s always better to stick together.
2. Wear striking colours to get identified easily in the crowd.
3. Do charge your phone before you head out to the mela ground. You never know when you might need to use it.
4. The mela requires a lot of walking as after one point, the vehicles are not allowed. So wear comfortable walking shoes when heading towards the fair ground.
5. Always carry water bottles as you can easily get dehydrated in the sun since the days are quite warm.
6. Though there are mobile ATMs, it is always advisable to carry enough cash for emergency.
7. Do carry complete accommodation details with you, as it can help you get back to your address, in case you get lost in the crowd.
8. Do carry hat/cap and sunglass to deal with the sunlight.
9. Be mindful while taking photographs of Naga Sadhus and people for that matter. It is always advisable to ask for permission to avoid any kind of unpleasant situations.
10. Be very alert in the crowd and careful with your belongings at the Kumbh Mela.
11. Do check the timing and the traffic plan before heading to Kumbh.
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I was invited on a Press Trip by the
Lonely Planet Magazine India and Uttar Pradesh Tourism
The reproduction of any of the content, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer, is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.