Kumbh Mela in Ancient and Recent Times
The Kumbh Mela of 2015 is just around the corner. It starts from July 14 at Trimbakeshwar in the Nasik district of Maharashtra. 80 million people are expected to visit Nasik this year as per government estimates.
There will be hordes of people coming to Nasik. Such is the devotion of the masses that they arrive in overcrowded buses and trains which sometimes carry five times more people than their allotted capacity. Then there are those who come by ox-drawn carts, horse backs and camels from far off places. Some ardent devotees come by foot with their bed rolls and puja items stacked on their heads. The Kumbh Mela instills such a deep feeling of reverence and adulation that people forget about their comfort and convenience just to take a dip in the sacred waters and achieve moksha or liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
Kumbh mela is celebrated once every 3 years alternately at four different locations: Allahabad, Ujjain, Nasik and Haridwar. Due to the colossal gathering of people and its management, Kumbh Melas have become renowned as the “largest peaceful gathering for faith”.
Importance of Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela is an important aspect in the spirituality of India and its significance should be understood. The devotees believe that taking a bath sacred river liberates them from their past sins or karma and escapes the cycle of birth and defeat. Those looking forward to taking a dip in the sacred Godavari River in Nasik in 2015 must understand that by merely taking a dip in the waters does not guarantee absolution. After the shahi snaan (or bathing in the sacred river) one must amend his or her lifestyle choices and lead a path of purity to avoid any karmic reaction. To bathe in the holy river at an auspicious time and thereby achieve moksha, the pilgrims or the devotees travel from far off places enduring physical discomforts (such as harsh climate or sleeping in cramped open spaces etc.).
Although the international interest in Kumbh Mela has risen in recent years, this spectacle of faith had intrigued foreign travelers since the 7th century. Chinese traveler Hsuan Tsang is accounted as the first person to document the event during the Magha month of the Hindu calendar (January-February). He witnessed the gathering of almost half a million people on the banks of the river Ganga in Allahabad. The celebration continued for 75 days and the participants includes sages, scholars and the King as well as his ministers.
Later on the renowned saint Shankara popularized the concept of Kumbh mela amongst the masses and soon the attendance of the common people saw a huge rise. Shankara preached about the significance of associating oneself with learned people or sages during the event and this practice is still followed today when people folk around rishis and munis to hear them speak about Vedas and puranas. Other events during this event include discussions on religious doctrines, devotional singing and in particular charity and feeding holy men and women and the needy.
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