In depth: What is Kumbh Mela and why it’s so important in India?
If you have watched Hindi movies from the 70s and 80s era, you must have come across many stories which originate and end at the Kumbh Mela. While the Mela of the films is the notorious spot where siblings get separated from each other — only to reunite after 20 years — the truth is far from the reel story. The authorities not only make sure that children are not separated from their parents, thanks to many samaritans and technology, reuniting the lost families is much easier now — it won’t take 20 years, just a couple of minutes is enough!
What is Kumbh?
Kumbh in Hindi means a pot or a vessel and mela means a fair or a carnival. So essentially the literal meaning of Kumbh Mela is the carnival of the pot. Spiritually, it means soaking in the nectar of divinity. The pot is supposed to be full of nectar and the fair is where you meet your spiritual self.
The mythological tale of the Mela
You must be aware of the Hindu concept inoffensive Sur (good or gods) and Asur (bad or demons). So once it happened that both Sur and Asur lost their powers. They decided to churn the ocean of milk to attain the amrit (nectar) of immortality. But after they got the amrit, the Surs and Asurs couldn’t compromise on sharing the nectar and hence they kept fighting for 12 years. Garuda (the vehicle of lord Vishnu) took the pot of nectar and flew away. It is said that while he was on flight, a few drops of amrit fell on earth at four places — Prayag (Uttar Pradesh), Haridwar (Uttarakhand), Nashik (Maharashtra) and Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh).
The four cities of Kumbh
Essentially the Kumbh Mela takes place on the banks of the Godavari river in Nashik, the Shipra river in Ujjain, the Ganga in Haridwar, and the confluence (sangam) of the Ganga Yamuna, and Saraswati river in Prayag. These four cities hold the Mela every 12 years. However, this number 12 is not the exact year but depends on the astronomy, placement of planets and auspicious dates. In between there is a Mela after an interval of six years also. It’s called Ardh Kumbh (half Kumbh).
The Kumbh Mela of 2021
This year the Kumbh Mela is being held in Haridwar from January 14 to April 27. Kumbh Mela in Haridwar is being held after 11 years — not the usual 12 — because of specific auspicious dates. In fact, this is the first time in 80 years that such a phenomenon has happened. In December 2017, UNESCO had included the Kumbh Mela in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In view of the existing pandemic, it’s obvious that the Mela would not see as many visitors as it did earlier. But this doesn’t mean that people are not ready to visit. Actually, the state government has already estimated that over 1.25 lacs people may visit the Mela this year. GIS mapping is being done of the entire area, the 107 ghats would be segregated according to the vulnerability factor, also the security services are more strict that usual.