Held every 4th years, the Kumbh Mela is one of the biggest events for the Indian Hindu community. The exact origin of the Kumbh Mela is very hard to pinpoint. The fair is a primitive one and the reason it is held can be traced back to the ancient episode of ‘Sagar Manthan’. Kumbh Mela derives its name from the immortal – Pot of Nectar – described in ancient Vedic scriptures known as the Puranas. Kumbha in Sanskrit language means ‘pot or pitcher’. Mela means ‘festival’. Thus Kumbh Mela literally means festival of the pot. It is not exactly known since when did people begin to hold Kumbh Mela; it is widely known how this spectacle of faith has attracted the curiosity of foreigners across the world. The famous Chinese traveler Hiuen-Tsang was probably the first person to mention Kumbh Mela in his diary.
In the 8th century, the great Indian saint Shankara popularized the Kumbh Mela among the common people. With each passing year the fair began to be attended by more and more people. By 1977, the number of pilgrims attending Kumbh Mela had grown to a record 12 million! By 1989, the attendance was approximately 29 million!! More than 60 million people is said to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
Maha Kumbh Mela occurrs every 144th years and is held in Allahabad (Prayag), last one being in 2013. Purna Kumbh Mela occurs every 12th years in Prayag, last one took place in 2001. Ardh Kumbh Mela is held every 6th year at Haridwar and Prayag. Kumbh Mela occurs every 3rd years, rotating through Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. As per Hindu mythologies, this is the only time and place in the world where you can unburden your sins and achieve ‘Nirvana’ from the vicious cycle of birth and re birth.
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.”