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India: Uttar Pradesh: Agra, Mirzapur, Prayagraj, Varanasi

Prayagraj, India: Kumbh on the confluence
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India

The Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) is anchored in Hindu mythology. It is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith, anywhere in the world. The Mela draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of approximately 48 days to bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mystical Sarasvati. Primarily, this congregation includes Ascetics, Saints, Sadhus, Sadhvis, Kalpvasis and Pilgrims from all walks of life.

Offering prayers, Prayagraj, India Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years. The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimages on four sacred rivers:
  1. Haridwar on the Ganges in the State of Uttarakhand
  2. Ujjain on the Shipra in the State Madhya Pradesh
  3. Nashik on the Godavari in the State of Maharashtra
  4. Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in the State of Uttar Pradesh

I had the opportunity to witness this Mela at Prayagraj in 2019.

Each site’s celebration is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the Jupiter. The celebrations occur at the exact moment when these positions are fully occupied, as it is considered to be the holiest time in Hinduism. The Kumbh Mela is an event that intrinsically encapsulates the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and socio-cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge.

Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela come from all sections of the religion ranging from Sadhus (saints) and Naga Sadhus who practice ‘sadhana’ and keenly follow a strict path of spiritual discipline, to Hermits who leave their seclusion and come to visit the civilization only during the Kumbh Mela, to seekers of spirituality, and to common people practicing Hinduism.

During the Kumbh Mela, a number of ceremonies take place; the traditional procession of Akharas called ‘Peshwai’ on elephant backs, horses and chariots, the shining swords and rituals of Naga Sadhus during ‘Shahi Snaan’, and many other cultural activities that attract millions of pilgrims to attend the Kumbh Mela.

Pushp viewing tower near the sangam, Prayagraj, India The origin of Kumbh Mela was transcribed by the 8th-century philosopher Shankara. The founding myth of the Kumbh Mela points out to the Puranas (compilation of ancient legends). It recounts how Gods and demons fought over the sacred pitcher (Kumbh) of Amrit (nectar of immortality) called the Ratna of Samudra Manthan.

It is widely believed that Lord Vishnu (disguised as the enchantress ‘Mohini’) whisked the Kumbh out of the grasp of the covetous demons who had tried to claim it. As he took it heavenwards, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on the four sacred site we know as Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Prayagraj. The flight and the following pursuit is said to have lasted twelve divine days which is equivalent to twelve human years and therefore, the Mela is celebrated every twelve years, staggered at each of the four sacred sites in this cycle. The corresponding rivers are believed to have turned into Amrit at the cosmic moment, giving pilgrims the chance to bathe in the essence of purity, auspiciousness, and immortality.

Kumbh Exhibition Centre, Prayagraj, India Kumbh is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. It became a matter of research amongst scholars when the legend of Kumbh began attracting millions of pilgrims from across the world. However, it is an established fact that Prayagraj has been the center stage of Kumbh and an event of such grand scale does not culminate in one day but gradually develops over a period of time.

The term ‘Kumbh’ comes from the root ‘kumbhak’ (the sacred pitcher of elixir of immortality). There is a mention of ‘Kumbh’ and the bathing ritual associated with it in the Rig Veda. It speaks of the benefits of bathing at sangam (confluence) during this period, elimination of negative influences and rejuvenation of mind and soul. Prayers for the ‘Kumbh’ are also expressed in Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda.

A sadhu, Prayagraj, India Historic evidence points towards the rule of King Harshvardhana, as the time when Kumbh Mela got widespread recognition across geographies. Famous traveler Hsuan Tsang has prominently mentioned the grandeur of Kumbh Mela in his travelogue. The traveler’s account also summarizes King Harsh’s charities at the confluence of holy rivers where he gave gifts and donations to the scholars and sanyasis. King Harsh used to hold a great quinquennial assembly on the sands of the holy confluence at Prayag and would distribute all his possessions. Moreover, the historical texts also point towards evidence that Adi Shankaracharya established 10 Akharas, Ardha Kumbh and Kumbh Mela.

The Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj is widely considered as the most significant among all the Kumbh festivals held at other locations. It is considered as the source of light and knowledge. It is believed that Prajapati Bramha performed Ashvamedha Yajna at Dashashvamedha Ghat situated at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna and created the universe due to which it is the most famous and significant among all other Kumbh festivals.

Railway bridge, Prayagraj, India The story of Samudra Manthan, one of the best-known episodes in the Hindu mythology, narrated in the Bhagvad Purana states that the sacred alignments of celestial bodies directly relate to the Kumbh festival. It took 12 divine days to carry the Amrit to the heavens. As one divine day of Gods is equivalent to one year of the humans, the journey to the heavens symbolizes 12 years in human terms. That is why every twelfth year when Jupiter enters the Aries constellation on the day of the new moon in the month of Magh, the Kumbh festival is organized. Mythological studies suggest that the Kumbh festival and the Ganga are related to each other. The Ganga flows in Prayagraj but Godavari of Nasik is also called the Ganga or the Gomti Ganga. Similarly, the Shipra (in Ujjain) is recognized as the north branch, the Ganga of Kashi. From that place onwards, Shipra becomes the east branch where it assimilates with the Ganga.

Prakash Bang at Prayagraj during Kumbh Mela 2019 In continuation to the astrological calculation, the event of Kumbh takes place as per the following astrological positions:
  • When Jupiter enters the Aquarius constellation along with the Sun moving in to the Aries constellation, the Kumbh festival is held at Haridwar.
  • When Jupiter moves in to Leo, the Kumbh festival is held at Nasik on the banks of Godavari. When Jupiter, the Sun, and the Moon enter Cancer on lunar conjunction (Amavasya), then also the Kumbh Festival is held on the banks of river Godavari.
  • When Jupiter moves in to Leo and the Sun entering Aries, the Kumbh festival is held at Ujjain. When Jupiter enters Libra and the Sun and the Moon remain together on Kartik Amavasya (8th month of Hindu year) then also the Kumbh Festival is held at Ujjain.
  • When Jupiter enters the Aries constellation and the Sun and the Moon are in Capricorn constellation, the Kumbh festival is held at Prayagraj on the new moon day. When the Sun is in Capricorn and Jupiter moves in to Taurus, the Kumbh festival is also held at Prayagraj.

And because a picture is worth a thousand words, I will let the moments I could capture do the talking.

Prayagraj Image Gallery Photo viewer Photo viewer

Pushp viewing tower near the sangam, Prayagraj, India A temple at Pushpa Tower premises, Prayagraj, India Mahirshi Yogi Memorial, Prayagraj, India On the banks of Yamuna, Prayagraj, India Replica of Badrinath & Kedarnath temples, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India
A baba’s jewelry, Prayagraj, India Arial view of Prayagraj city, India Arial view of the Fort, Prayagraj, India Bridges on the Ganges, Prayagraj, India Railway bridge, Prayagraj, India The Mela grounds spans 45 sq.kms., Prayagraj, India
Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India
The confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, Prayagraj, India The nose at the sangam, Prayagraj, India The Sangam. River Yamuna is dark. River Ganges is lighter, Prayagraj, India Arial view of farmland, Prayagraj, India Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India
Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims taking the holy dips, Prayagraj, India Cleansing the soul, Prayagraj, India Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India
Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India On the banks of the sangam, Prayagraj, India Boats on the river, Prayagraj, India Sunset, Prayagraj, India Sunset, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims on the banks, Prayagraj, India
Offering prayers to Ganga Mayya, Prayagraj, India Full moon, Prayagraj, India. It was Maghi Poornima Offering prayers, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India
A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India Chanting of Bhajans, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India Chanting of Bhajans, Prayagraj, India
A baba from one of the Akhadas, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India
Sadhus at Kinnar Akhada, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India A devotee, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India Kinnar Akhada premises, Prayagraj, India
Kumbh Exhibition Centre, Prayagraj, India Kumbh Exhibition Centre, Prayagraj, India Prakash Bang at Prayagraj during Kumbh Mela 2019 Sunrise on the Ganges, Prayagraj, India Sunrise on the Ganges, Prayagraj, India A warning sign, Prayagraj, India
Indraprastha Tent City, Prayagraj, India Locals on the boat, Prayagraj, India Riverbank, Prayagraj, India Locals on the Ganges, Prayagraj, India Morning prayers on the Ganges, Prayagraj, India Hawan Kund at Indraprastha Tent City, Prayagraj, India
Pilgrims on the banks, Prayagraj, India Flower vendor, Prayagraj, India Pandas have their individual trademarks Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India Book-keepers for generations, Prayagraj, India Updating the records of family trees, Prayagraj, India
The records, Prayagraj, India A ‘panda’ booth, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India Performing the last-rituals, Prayagraj, India Record books, Prayagraj, India
Barber at work, Prayagraj, India Mounted force, Prayagraj, India Sadhus, Prayagraj, India Boats, Prayagraj, India Sadhus, Prayagraj, India The banks, Prayagraj, India
Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India A sadhu, Prayagraj, India The gathering on the banks, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims offering prayers, Prayagraj, India The banks, Prayagraj, India Pilgrims, Prayagraj, India
Vendors, Prayagraj, India Vendors, Prayagraj, India Vendors, Prayagraj, India Vendors, Prayagraj, India Naga Baba, Prayagraj, India Babas, Prayagraj, India

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