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Kumbh Mela
Kumbh Mela
2001 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad
Type Hinduism
Begins Pausa Purnima
Ends Magha Purnima
Celebrations every 12 years at 4 locations

Kumbh Mela (Devanagari: कुम्भ मेला) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage. It occurs four times every twelve years and rotates among four locations: Prayag (Allahabad) at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati river, Haridwar along the Ganga river, Ujjain along the Kshipra river and Nashik along the Godavari river.

The Ardh Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Prayag [1], while the Purna (complete) Kumbh always takes place at Prayag every twelve years [2]. Over 45 days beginning in January 2007, more than 17 million Hindu pilgrims took part in the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag, and on January 15, the most auspicious day of the festival of Makar Sankranti, more than 5 million participated [3].

The Maha Kumbh Mela ('Great' Kumbh Mela) which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas' which is after every 144 years is also held at Allahabad [2][4][5]. The 2001, Maha Kumbh Mela was attended by around 60 million people, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world [6][7][8][9].


According to Indian astrology, it is celebrated when the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) moves into the zodiac sign of Aquarius or Kumbha [10][11]. Each sites celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter [12].


Kumbha is a Sanskrit word for Pitcher, sometimes referred to as the Kalasha, it is also a zodiac sign in Indian astrology for Aquarius, the sign under which the festival is celebrated, while Mela means 'a gathering' or 'a meet', or simply a fair.


Kurma Avatar of Vishnu, below Mount Mandara, with Vasuki wrapped around it, during Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean of milk. ca 1870 painting.

The observance of Kumbh Mela dates back many centuries in Ancient India, to the Vedic period, where the river festivals first started getting organised. In Hindu mythology, its origin is found the one of the popular creation myths and the Hindu theories on evolution, the Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), which finds mention in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana [13].

The Gods had lost their strength, and to regain it, they thought of churning the Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) for amrit (the nectar of immortality), this required them to make a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the demons or Asuras to work together, with a promise of sharing the nectar equally thereafter [14]. However, when the Kumbha (urn) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years) the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, the celestial bird, Garuda the vehicle of Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha of elixir, and that is when drops of amrita fell at four places on earth: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, and that is where the Kumbh Mela is observed every twelve years [15].

First written evidence of the Kumbha Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 - 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana [16][17][18] According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar, which lead to the rapid improvement of arrangement by the authorities and the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society, and in 1903 about 400,000 people attended the fair [11]. During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Allahabad, around 500 people were killed, and scores were injured. Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on April 14, 1998 [16].

The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over 10 million pilgrims visiting Hardwar, to take a dip in the holy river, Ganga [19]. Around 1 million people from outside of India and from around the world participated in the 'Maha Kumbh Mela' at Prayag (Allahabad) in 2001, with planetary positions that repeat only once in 144 years [20]. The total gathering exceeded 60 millions. See the references given in the article 1954 Kumbh Mela Stampede. [Millions bathe at Hindu festival BBC News, January 3, 2007.] [Kumbh Mela pictured from space - probably the largest human gathering in history BBC News, January 26, 2001.] [Kumbh Mela: the largest pilgrimage - Pictures: Kumbh Mela by Karoki Lewis The Times, March 22, 2008.]

The Ritual

Naga Sadhu procession 1998 Kumbh Mela - Photo by Stefania Zamparelli

Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, 1850s

Kumbh Mela is attended by millions of people on a single day. The major event of the 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 is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women (monks, saints and sadhus) attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with plenty of ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some called naga sanyasis may often be seen without any clothes even in severe winter, generally considered to live an extreme lifestyle. 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 whites.[21]

Kalpavãsa VratÂ

A person who undergoes the Kalpavãsa Vrat is honoured with the title of Kalpavãsi

A unique feature of the Indian Bathing Festivals - Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela, Magha Mela, Etc. is that of the Kalpavãsis, who present a scene of Vãnaprasthãshrama Dharma (retired forest life prescribed in the Vedas for couples). The Kalpavãsis spend the Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela living an austere and minimalistic life

Most of them stay in thatched huts, sleep on sandy river beds, listen to discourses, assimilate the essence of Dharma and give alms. Some of them bathe in the holy river thrice daily and eat only once

conceptThese are general guidelines; however we understand the modern urban life is very demanding and has become highly mechanical, many of us may neither have the time nor the inclination to fulfil the extreme form of austerities performed by the Traditional Kalpavãsis (some of them take a vow at every single Kumbh (Kumbh) Mela, which roughly falls once every three years)

The idea is to get away from the everyday mundane existence and observe and absorb the true meaning of life by the learning from the religious gurus, interacting with other Kalpavãsis, experiencing the cultures, traditions and heritage from every part of India at one single place and maintaining a single minded devotion to the understanding of the Absolute-Truth ref -

Recent Kumbh Melas


A procession of Akharas marching over a makeshift bridge over the Ganga river, Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, 2001

According to Paramahansa Yogananda in his work the Autobiography of a Yogi, it was on the Kumbha Mela in January 1894 at Prayag that his Guru Sri Yukteswar met Mahavatar Babaji for the first time.[22].


In 2001, Kumbhmela was held in Prayag. It is estimated that about 60 million people took a bath in the river Ganges on the occasion. It was extraordinary in terms of arrangement and discipline.[Neutrality is disputed]


When the Kumbh Mela was held in Nashik, India, from July 27 to September 7, 2003, 39 pilgrims (28 women and 11 men) were trampled to death and 57 were injured (keeping in mind that the number of devotees attending the fair was around 70 million). Devotees had gathered on the banks of the Godavari river for the maha snaan or holy bath. Over 30,000 pilgrims were being held back by barricades in a narrow street leading to the Ramkund, a holy spot, so the sadhus could take the first ceremonial bath. Reportedly, a sadhu threw some silver coins into the crowd and the subsequent scramble led to the stampede.[23][24]


The Simhastha Kumbh at Ujjain in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is an event, which the devout Hindus wait for 12 years. The month-long congregation brings together millions of people from across India and abroad. Driven by faith and the quest for inner peace, they converge on this holy city to be a part of a unique bathing festival. Braving the scorching sun of April-May the devotees enjoy the company of seers and saints, listen to religious discourses, witness the Ramlilas and Raslilas, visit the various “akharas”, watch the grand processions of “sadhus” and take holy dips in the Sipra river. They imbibe the spirit of the devotion-filled ambience where Lord Shiva is omnipresent. The sea of humanity gets harmonized into a single entity, overcoming all divisive thoughts. To them this is a lifetime experience.

Bath Calendar The Ujjain Simhastha began with the first "shahi snan" (royal bath) on April 5, 2004, Chaitra Shukla Purnima, Monday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. It will end with the third shahi snan on May 4 corresponding to Vaishakh Shukla Purnima, Thursday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. In between, there would be the second shahi snan on April 22, 2004, Vaishakh Shukla Tritiya, Thursday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. Besides, the two parva snans would be on April 19, 2004, Vaishakh Krishna Amavasya, Monday, Vikrami Samvat 2061 and on April 24, 2004, Vaishakh Shukla Panchami, Saturday, Vikrami Samvat 2061.

The Holy Dip in Sipra The significance of a bath in the Sipra can be gauged from a verse in the Skanda Purana. According to it “The holy bath of the Kumbh equals in piety to thousands of Kartik snans, hundred Magh snans and crores of Narmada snans during the month of Vaishakh. The fruits of Kumbh snan are equal to the fruits of thousands of Ashvamedh Yajna and lakhs of journeys around the earth”. Elaborate arrangements have been made for the convenience of pilgrims.

The History & Geography of Ujjain Ujjain, the city of Mahakal, previously known as Avanti, Kushsthali, Kanashringa, Bhaumvati, Padmavati, Pratikalpa, Amaravati, Vishala, Avantika and Ujjayani is considered to be among the holiest cities in India. The only south-facing idol of Mahakaleshwar, regarded as the God of all the deities and demons alike, is situated at Ujjain. The Adi Purana describes Ujjain as the most sacred city on the earth. The city has been a seat of learning where all disciplines of knowledge have flourished since time immemorial.

Situated along the banks of the Sipra, the city has been eulogized by great poets like Vedavyasa and Kalidasa. Vikramaditya, the legendary emperor, ruled the city with his famous Navratnas (nine jewels) including Kalidasa, Shanku, Dhanvantari, Betalbhatta, Varruchi, Varahmihir, Kshapdak, Ghatkarpar and Amar Singh who epitomised different branches of knowledge.

Ujjain is located on the Tropic of Cancer, the prime meridian of India. The Vikram Samvatsar originated in this ancient city. According to Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, “there is something very striking about the consistency of Ujjain’s dominance in Indian time accounting.” The city was an important centre of astronomy in the Gupta period. Varahmihir, the renowned astronomer, had worked in Ujjain. In the 18th century, Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur constructed the famous observatory at Ujjain to encourage astronomical studies and to popularize astronomy amongst the people


Every six years there is an Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag (also known as Allahabad). The actual dates are dependent on stellar constellations and were announced as below:

Important bathing dates
  • 3 Jan (Paush Purnima)
  • 14 Jan (Makar Sankranti)
  • 19 Jan (Mauni Amavasya)
  • 23 Jan (Basant Panchami)
  • 2 Feb (Magh Purnima)

Upcoming Kumbh Mela

  • Haridwar (the gateway to God) will host the Purna Kumbha mela from Makar Sankranti (14th January 2010) to Shakh Purnima Snan (28th April 2010) based on Vedic strology.
  • First 'Ratham shahi snan' (Royal 'important' ritual bath) is scheduled on Maha Shiva Ratri/Kumbha Sankranti (12th February 2010),
  • second one ('Dvitya Shahi Snan' -Second Royal Bath) on Somabati Amabasa (15th March 2010) and
  • third one ('Pramukh Shahi Snan' -Main Royal Bath)on Mesha Sankranti (14th April 2010).
  • The Purna Kumbha Mela will again be held at Prayag in the year 2013 (January 27 to February 25)
  • Nasik will host the Ardha Kumbha Mela in 2015 (August 15 to September 13)
  • Ujjan Purna Kumbh Mela 2016 (Also Known as Simhasth @ Ujjain) (April 22 to May 21)

Kumbh Mela in Media

Amrita Kumbher Sandhane, a 1982 Bengali feature film directed by Dilip Roy, documents the Kumbh Mela. Kumbha Mela has been theme for many a documentaries, including "Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth" (2001) by [25], [Short Cut to Nirvana]ShortCut to Nirvana trailer (2004), by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day [26][27], Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River (2004), by Nadeem Uddin[28], and Invocation, Kumbha Mela (2008) [29]

Bollywood movies often jokingly refer to Kumbh Mela as a place where the character lost his/her twin brother/sister. The most common script line being in Hindi "Hum bachpan me kumbh ke mele me kho gaye the". This is a common parody in recent times, being an effect of many movies using this lost-and-found device in the past.

Documentaries online


See also

  • 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede
  • Pushkaram

Further reading

  • Kumbha Mela: History and Religion, Astronomy and Cosmobiology, by Subas Rai. Published by Ganga Kaveri Pub. House, 1993. ISBN 818569401X.
  • The Kumbh Mela, by Mark Tully (Author), Richard Lannoy (Photographer), Ashok Mahendra (Photographer). Indica Books. 2002. ISBN 8186569227.
  • Kumbha Mela, by Jack Hebner. Published by Transition Vendor, 2003. ISBN 1886069905.
  • Nashik Kumbh Mela: A Spiritual Sojourn, by Govind Swarup. India Book House Ltd, 2006. ISBN 8175083794.
  • Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954, by Kama Maclean. Oxford University Press, USA. 2008. ISBN 0195338944.


  1. The Urn Festival TIME, Feb 08, 1960.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kumbh Mela The Basis of Civilization--water Science?: Water Science?, by J. C. Rodda, Lucio Ubertini, International Association of Hydrological Sciences, IAHS International Commission on Water Resources Systems, Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (Italy). Published by International Association of Hydrological Science, 2004. ISBN 1901502570 Page 165.
  3. Millions of Hindus Wash Away Their Sins Washington Post, January 15, 2007.
  4. The Maha Kumbh Mela 2001
  5. Kumbh Mela dates
  6. Millions bathe at Hindu festival BBC News, January 3, 2007.
  7. Kumbh Mela pictured from space - probably the largest human gathering in history BBC News, January 26, 2001.
  8. Kumbh Mela: the largest pilgrimage - Pictures: Kumbh Mela by Karoki Lewis The Times, March 22, 2008.
  9. Kumbh Mela - 25 January 2001 - New Scientist
  10. Kumbha Mela Students' Britannica India, by Dale Hoiberg, Indu Ramchandani. Published by Popular Prakashan, 2000. ISBN 0852297602.Page 259-260.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Haridwar The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 13, p. 52.
  12. Kumbh Mela '
  13. Ramayana, Book I; Canto: XLV - The Quest for the Amrit Ramayana of Valmiki.
  14. The Holiest Day in History TIME, Jan 31, 1977.
  15. Urn Festival TIME, May 1, 1950.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Kumbh Mela - Timeline What Is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith, by Editors of Hinduism Today, Hinduism Today Magazine Editors. Published by Himalayan Academy Publications, 2007. ISBN 1934145009. 242-243.
  17. Kumbh Mela
  18. Kumbh Mela Channel 4.
  19. Kumbh Mela, a study Missouri State University
  20. Maha Kumbh Mela concludes The Hindu, February 22, 2001.
  21. Mark Twain, "Following the Equator: A journey around the world"
  22. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda Chapter 36 Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, wikisource.
  23. 39 killed in Kumbh Mela stampede The Hindu, Aug 28, 2003
  24. Holy man's gift blamed for 39 dead in stampede The Guardian, August 28, 2003.
  25. Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth at the Internet Movie Database
  26. Short Cut to Nirvana at the Internet Movie Database
  27. Mela films
  28. Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River at the Internet Movie Database
  29. Invocation, Kumbha Mela at the Internet Movie Database

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Kumbh Mela. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.

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