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Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela (the Urn Festival) is a Hindu pilgrimage that occurs four times every twelve years and rotates between four locations: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Each twelve-year cycle includes one Maha Kumbh Mela (Great Kumbh Mela) at Prayag, which is attended by millions of people, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.

Although Kumbha Mela celebrations can be traced back to the ninth century AD, the origins of Kumbha Mela appear to go back much further.

Several thousand years ago, according to the legend of Kumbha Mela, the ancient gods and demons made a short-term pact to acquire the nectar of immortality known as amrita manthanam from the depths of the Ksheera Sagara (Milky Ocean) to share among themselves.

The demons, however, managed to escape with the Kumbha (urn) containing the amrita and were swiftly pursued through the heavens by the gods. The two sides fought each other for twelve long days (corresponding to twelve years in mortal terms) to try to regain possession of the urn full of amrita. During the fighting, four drops of amrita were spilled. Kumbha Mela is celebrated at the four places where the amrita fell to earth.

Kumbh Mela is attended by millions of people on a single day. The major event of this festival is a ritual bath at the banks of the rivers in each town. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardized. Kumbh Mela (especially the Maha Kumbh Mela) is the most sacred of all the Hindu pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women (monks, saints and sadhus) attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this.

Kumbha Mela: Useful Terms and Phrases
This summary will help you remember significant terms related to Kumbha Mela:

  • Amavasya day: most important day of Kumbha Mela
  • Amrita Manthanam: nectar of immortality
  • Ksheera Sagara: milky ocean
  • Kumbha: urn or pot
  • Maha: great
  • Mela: Hindu pilgrimage
  • Naga Babas: Naked Yogis
  • Sadhu: Hindu holy man
  • Sangam: confluence of rivers.

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