The 42-day Maha Kumbh Mela (Great Kumbh Fair), which begins January 9, will draw 30 million devotees - roughly the population of Canada - to Allahabad where the holy Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet.
Kumbh Mela Dates in 2001:
9 January 2001: Paush Purnima
14 January 2001: Makar Sankranti
24 January 2001: Mauni Amavasya
29 January 2001: Basant Panchami
8 February 2001: Magh Purnima
21 February 2001: Maha Shivratri
Periodical or annual fairs - Melas as they are known -on river banks, lake-shores, beaches and sacred places are held by Hindus to commemorate important events or in honour of Gods or Goddesses. These melas find a mention in our epics and Puranas and therefore, are a prominent feature of Hinduism from time immemorial.
The most important of these melas is the KUMBH MELA. The origin of this mela is still obscure. May be it originated as a meeting place for the main religious heads in the country who could lay down canons for the whole community as Hinduism has no supreme hierarchial head. A large number of religious heads, ascetics, high priests, philosophers and wandering mendicants form the major part of pilgrims who visit the Kumbh Mela. It is the prospect of their "Darshan" that draws the crowds.
It is said about this mela that the earth was made sacred at four places by contact with the "KUMBH"- jar-filled with "amrit" - nectar.
It is believed that the gods became emaciated as a result of the curse by a saint and wanted to regain their old strength and vigour by drinking the nectar. But they knew that they would not be able to churn the ocean by themselves and bring up the Kumbh, filled with the nectar-the Elixir of Immortality that was lying on the bed of the ocean. So they approached the Asuras - the demons who were their inveterate enemies, to join hands with them in churning the ocean. For that help, the gods promised the Asuras that they would be given a portion of the nectar when the pot of nectar is brought up from the depths of the ocean. The Asuras readily agreed.
Then the gods and the demons started churning the ocean with Mandar mountain as the rod for churning and Vasuki, the great Cobra serpent for the thick string. As the vigorous churning progressed the ocean began to yield its treasures one by one. In all thirteen precious things came out from the sea. Lastly the Sage Dhanwantri appeared with the coveted jar of nectar in his hands. The Asuras who were physically stronger than the gods seized the kumbh. At that moment Lord Indra's son Jayant, assumed the form of a gregarious rook- a ferocious bird - whisked away the jar from the hands of the demons and flew high up in the sky. The bird on its way to heaven rested at Nasik, Ujjain, Prayag and Haradwar. He took twelve days to reach paradise from the ocean. As each divine day is reckoned to be equivalent to an earth year, the KUMBH MELA is celebrated once in twelve years at each of these four places.
Another version of this story says that when the Gods and Asuras struggled for the possession of the kumbh nectar spilled from the jar and fell at these four places. The Mela is not held at all the four places on the same date but in turn and hence we have a Kumbh Mela every three years.
But at Prayag - Allahabad - where the three holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the hidden Saraswati meet - the Sangam of these rivers - and the river-bed is extensive, the Kumbh Mela attracts a large multitude of people. The sight is truly spectacular ! Next to this Mela at Prayag, the Kumbh Mela at Haradwar is gorgeous too.
It is a stupendous pageant as millions upon millions of inspired people step into the ice-cold water at dawn. Disregarding the heavy expenses and the long tiring journey people come from all parts of the country and band together to form the world's and most colourful religious concourse - the KUMBH-MELA which comes after twelve long years of waiting. Hindus regard that a dip in t