Maha Kumbh Mela – The largest human gathering on the planet, an auspicious ceremony that takes place once in 12 years is an example of the power of faith in religion. The mythological history of India and the sacred religious texts that bind the carnal souls to an eternal hope of being freed from the vicious earthly cycle of life and death and move towards a heavenly realm, which knows no suffering or pain. “An eternal life free of sins” is the promise of Maha Kumbh Mela and is what strength behind its enormous following.
It would have been injustice to the traveler in me had I failed to visit this unbelievable representation of faith, as Allahabad was just 280 kms from Kanpur. So on the 3rd day of February, me and my friend Anantha Krishnan set out from IIT Kanpur at 5 am in the morning and caught the 6.30 am Allahabad Intercity Express from Kanpur Central Railway station. Since we arrived pretty early, we got ourselves a comfortable seat in the second seater compartment. Though it was supposed to be a 2.5 hours ride, the train took close to 4 hours. Well, you do know about the exceptional time-keeping record of the great Indian Railways. The view outside my window flashed a plethora of beautiful agricultural fields engrossed in the morning fog, giving it a mystifying demeanor.
Having chosen one the least crowded day of the, we found that our research payed off. The crowd was much less, and it allowed us easy access to almost whole of the Mela village. The whole Mela village is created in tens of square kilometers of area on the banks of the river Ganges. The Trivenisangamam or the Sangam is the most sacred location in Allahabad, as it it were the mighty rivers Ganges and Yamuna join into each other. It is also believed that the mythical underground river Saraswati also meets Ganga and Yamuna at this point from under the ground.
As we waded through the temporary city built up on the banks of Ganges, we were surprised at the ingenuity of the engineers and the cleanliness of the place. No pun intended, but considering the sanitary and cleanliness standards in India, this was something worth appreciating. The whole banks was divided into sectors and each sectors had a camp of a saint or Yogi. These camps had religious sermons, food distribution and plays, songs etc. The whole atmosphere smelled of incense and was sanctified by the omnipresent chanting of vedic hymns that reminded us about the spiritual oneness. India being a predominantly Hindu nation, has deep roots in spirituality that goes back to tens of thousands of years. Kumbh Mela is the continuation of that age old tradition of faith and hope.
Before I go further, I think I should tell you the story behind Kumbh Mela. In Vedic culture, every river is personified as a deity and the water stream is interpreted as the material manifestation of that personality. Rivers are deified as mothers as they are a source for human existence. River Ganga is one of the most special rivers as it is believed to come directly from the ocean of milk by washing the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Bathing in the holy waters of Ganga is believed to be most auspicious at the time of Kumbh Mela. Legend has it that in the mythological times, during a waging war between the demigods and demons for the possession of elixir of eternal life or the Amrit, a few drops of it had fallen on to four places that are today known as Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. It is believed that these drops gave mystical powers to these places. It is to make oneself gain on those powers that Kumbh Mela has been celebrated in each of the four places since long as one can remember. The normal Kumbh Mela is held every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag) while the Purna (complete) Kumbh mela takes place every twelve years, at four places Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik, based on planetary movements. The Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag after 144 years (after 12 ‘Purna Kumbh Melas’). (Ref : kumbhamela.net)
The most important thing to watch out for are the Naga Babas who are sages who live in the Himalayas. The cover themeseves in ashes of the dead and has long unkempt hairs and live on weeds mimicking the life of Lord Shiva. The ocean of devotees taking a dip in the holy Ganges is the prime attraction of Kumbh Mela. A friend of Ananth, Abhijit joined us in Allahabad. We took a boat ride in Sangam to the center of it. The water wasn’t upto my sanitary standarts and that prevented me from taking a dip in it. And yes, personally I don’t believe in the cycle or reincarnation. The flock of migratory birds from Siberia add to the beauty of the rivers.
An interesting find was the genius in Manish Kumar, a constable in UP police. He came to us and we had a chat and it revealed that he was a genuis even though he was just a 12th standard pass out He had a sound knowledge in Aerospace and Modern Physics and we were really sad to see such an intelligent guy making a living in the police uniform while he could achieve a lot more. The Allahabad Fort located at the banks of the Sangam, though held by the military, had 2 famous temples inside them. In the evening, the bright lights gave the Mela village a charming and beautiful outlook. Something in the air irritated our eyes and we left soon. We had walked close to 20km that day and had not eaten anything since morning as we couldn’t find any restaurants in the village.
We returned by 9.30 pm and bribed the train ticket examiner for a seat in the sleeper coach, away from the omniously crowded general class. After a long day, we were back in IIT by 1.30 am ad this was a trip to cherish. It was a different kind of experience. I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to Anantha Krishnan and Abhijit for joining me.
And here as usual, is the photo of me, Anantha Krishnan and Abhijit.
P.S : If you didn’t visit tis Kumbh mela, you just have to wait another 144 years to visit the next. Or another 12 for the next Maha Kumbh.