Kumbha Mela is the world’s largest sacred gathering of saints, sages and seekers at the union of India’s three Holy Rivers: the Ganga, which represents wisdom, the Yamuna, which represents Devotion, and the Saraswati, representing creativity and knowledge.
This year festival (2013) represents a Purna Kumbha Mela, happening every 12 years.
Kumbha Mela Occasion and Timing
Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign Leo (Simha Rashi) it is held in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik; when the sun is in Aries (Mesha Rashi) it is celebrated at Haridwar; when Jupiter is in Taurus (Vrishabha Rashi ) and the sun is in Capricorn (Makar Rashi) Kumbha Mela is celebrated at Allahabad; and Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio (Vrishchik Rashi) the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain Each site’s celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter.
Rituals at Kumbha Mela
The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town it is being held, other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardized. Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with ashes and powder dabbed on their skin as per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may not wear any clothes even in severe winter.
After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:
” .. It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold white… “