Thousands of Hindus in Trinidad gather each year at our beaches and the watering areas to celebrate the Kartic Nahan festival. This year it falls on November 28. In India, however, the water festivals attract tens of millions of Hindu devotees. According to Wikipedia, Kumbh Mela (kom 'mela) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage in which Hindus gather at the Ganges and river Godavari, where bathing for purification of sin is considered especially efficacious.
The Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every 12 years, at four places, Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas, or 144 years, is held at Allahabad.
According to the Mela administration's estimates, around 70 million people participated in the 45-day Ardh Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, in 2007 and it is anticipated that 80 million Hindus will participate in January-February, 2013. The Maha Sabha will send a delegation of 25 pundits to attend the Kumbh Mela at the invitation of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Board of Trustees and the governing council.
Its international chairman Ashook Singal visited Trinidad recently and has e-mailed us saying, "I would love to extend a cordial invitation to the delegation to stay at our Vishwa Parishad Camp at the Kumbh city of tents at the Triveni Sangnam (where the three holy rivers meet) to attend the programme and also internalise first-hand the internal and divine spirit of the world famous Kumbh Mela."
Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Brhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign Leo (SimhaRashi) it is held in TrimbakeshwarNashik. When the sun is in Aries (MeshaRashi) it is celebrated at Haridwar; when Jupiter is in Taurus (VrishabhaRashi) and the sun is in Capricorn (MakarRashi) Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag.
When Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio (VrishchikRashi) the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain. The first written evidence of the Kumbh Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602-664 AD) who visited India in 629-645 CE.
However, similar observances date back many centuries, where the river festivals first started getting organised. According to ancient Hindu theology, its origin is found in one of the most popular medieval puranas, the Bhagavata Purana. The Samudramantham episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana.
The account goes that the demigods had lost their strength by the curse of Durvasa Muni, and to regain it, they approached lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Hindu Trinity). Lord Vishnu instructed them to churn the ocean of milk (Primordial Ocean of milk) for amrita (the nectar of immortality).
According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar leading to the rapid improvement of arrangements by the authorities and to the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society. In 1903 about 400,000 people are recorded as attending. During the 1945 Kumbh Mela stampede at Prayag, around 500 people were killed and scores were injured.
Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on April 14, 1998. The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over ten million pilgrims visiting Hardwar, a city at the southern foothills of the Himalayas, to take a dip in the holy Ganges river. In 2001, around one million people from outside of India and from around the world participated in the Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad.
This Mela was very significant due to the planetary positions at the time, a pattern that repeats only once every 144 years. The major event of the festivals is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town it was being held. 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 standardised.
Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all Hindu pilgrimages where thousands of holy men and women attend. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron robes with ashes and powder dabbed on their skin according to ancient traditions. Some, called nagasanyasis, do 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 pining.
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 whites."
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha