This Day in History (19-Jan-1977) – World’s largest crowd–12.7 million–gather for Indian religious festival ‘Kumbh Mela’

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.”


This Day in History (14-Jan-3102BC) – Epoch (origin) of the Kali Yuga

Kali Yuga or “age of Kali”, or “age of vice” is the last of the four stages the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Sanskrit scriptures. The other ages are Satya or Krita Yuga (Golden Age), Treta Yuga (Silver Age) and the Dwapara Yuga (Bronze Age). The Krita Yuga was so named because there was but one religion, and all men were saintly: therefore they were not required to perform religious ceremonies. Men neither bought nor sold; there were no poor and no rich; there was no need to labour, because all that men required was obtained by the power of will.  In the Treta Yuga sacrifices began; virtue lessened a quarter. Mankind sought truth and performed religious ceremonies; they obtained what they desired by giving and by doing. In the Dwapara Yuga, religion lessened one-half. The Veda was divided into four parts, and although some had knowledge of the four Vedas, others knew but three or one. Mind lessened, Truth declined, and there came desire and diseases and calamities; because of these men had to undergo penances. It was a decadent Age by reason of the prevalence of sin.

The duration and chronological starting point in human history of Kali Yuga has given rise to different evaluations and interpretations. According to the Surya Siddhanta, Kali Yuga began at midnight (00:00) on 18 February 3102 BCE  in the proleptic Julian calendar, or 14 January 3102 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. It is supposed to have started thirty-five years after the conclusion of the great battle of the Mahabharata. This date is also considered by many Hindus to be the day that Lord Krishna left Earth to return to his abode.

The Kali Yuga is sometimes thought to last 432,000 years, although other durations like 1200 years have been proposed. Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga because in it people are as far away as possible from God.



This Day in History (2-Nov-1953) – Pakistan becomes Islamic republic

When India and Pakistan became independent states in 1947, each inherited a bristling minority problem. Twelve million apprehensive Hindus stayed in Pakistan; 43 million Muslims stayed in India. The Indian Parliament guaranteed its minorities equality, and Prime Minister Nehru conspicuously appointed Muslims and Christians to his Cabinet. But Pakistan, in framing its own constitution, chose the dark path which might lead to theocracy and fear. The Constituent Assembly ruled that the nation should become “the Islamic Republic of Pakistan” (presumably within the British Commonwealth, like India)

Pakistan became independent of the United Kingdom in 1947, but remained a British Dominion like Canada or Australia until 1956. Under Section 8 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, with certain adaptations, served as the working constitution of Pakistan, but the need of a full independence and a constitution to be framed by the elected representatives of the people was all the more necessary for the free citizens of a sovereign state. Since India became a republic in 1950, the feeling had increased that Pakistan should assume the same special status that India felt she had attained. Republican sentiment had almost certainly been further strengthened by what many Pakistanis consider Britain’s failure to support her openly in the Kashmir dispute. Even so, Pakistan had no present intention of dissociating herself from the Commonwealth. A proposal to do so was quietly dropped.

There was no indication of what precisely the term ‘Islamic Republic’ would mean, but the leader of the Hindu members of the Constituent Assembly, who walked out in protest, had already labelled it as.” an attempt to make Pakistan a theocratic State,” in which Hindus (13 per cent of the population) would be placed on a separate electoral rolls, denied the highest office of State, and forced into a position of inferiority. Certainly it would not help to solve the problem of the Hindus of East Bengal, nor improve relations with India.

Pakistan was the first country to become Islamic Republic, followed by Mauritania, Iran and Afganistan over a period.



This Day in History (27-Sep-1925) – Rashtriya Swayansewak Sangh was established

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a physician living in the Nagpur, as a part of the movement against British rule and as a response to rioting between Hindus and Muslims. Dr. Hedgewar, who had got his education in the Calcutta Medical College had been a part of the Anushilan Samiti and Yugantar and was a nationalist by heart. He became a member of Indian National Congress initially but left it soon and established RSS. The idea was to train the Hindu youths so that they unite the Hindu Community and make India an Independent undivided country. He was much influenced by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and adopted his ideals.

Dr.  Hedgewar announced on Vijayadasami day, 27 September 1925, that “we are inaugurating the sangh today. All of us must train ourselves physically, intellectually and in every way so as to be capable of achieving our cherished goal”. Formal beginning of Sangh took place in Doctor Hedgewar’s house in Sukrawadi of Nagpur.Training in Drill, march etc. was imparted on Sundays. Uniform for this training was Khaki shirt, Khaki short, and Khaki Cap. On Thursdays and Sundays there were discourses on national affairs.

The name ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’ was selected for Sangh on 17 April 1926. Daily meetings – Nitya Shakhas – were started at Mohitewada ground in Nagpur on 28th May. Lathi -Danda – was introduced in the shakha. New commands Daksha, Arama were used for the first time in shakhas. The tradition of commencing the daily activities with salutation to the Bhagawa Dhwaj and concluding with the Prayer – Prarthana – in Hindi and Marathi was instituted.
First route march – patha sanchalan – was held with 30 participants.

In March 1928 First ceremony of initiation – Pratigna – was conducted. In a meeting on 9, 10 Nov.1929 held at Doke Math, Nagpur, Doctorji was designated as the Chief [Sarsangh chalak]. In 1930 Black cap was introuduced as a part of uniform in place of Khaki cap. RSS possess around 4.5million members, has a well structured hierarchical order and is very active in social causes.



This Day in History (11-Sep-1893) – Swami Vivekananda represented Hinduism at Chicago’s Parliament of the World’s Religions

In the first ever inter-faith gathering, Swami Vivekananda dramatically enlighted the Western opinion to the depth of Hindu philosophy and culture. Here are excerpts from website of ‘The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ –

The 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, held on the shore of Lake Michigan, Chicago, was the largest and most spectacular event among many other congresses in the World’s Columbian Exposition. The World Congress of Religions marks the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide. A captivating Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda mesmerized the 5,000 assembled delegates, greeting them with the words, “Sisters and brothers of America!” This speech, which introduced Hinduism to America is memorized by school children in India to this day. Swami Vivekanada became one of the most forceful and popular speakers in spite of the fact that he had never before addressed an audience in public. He continued, “If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

Vivekananda’s speech was received wonderfully by the parliament and Parliament President John Henry Barrows praised Vivekananda greatly and said that he had a great influence over the entire audience. Vivekananda also received massive attention in the press who called him the “cyclonic monk from India”. Newspapers like the New York Herald wrote of him saying “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation”.



This Day in History (15-Mar-1564) – Akbar removed ‘jizya’ or toll-tax for his non-Muslim subjects

Akbar succeeded his father Humayun at the age of 14 years. The kingdom Akbar inherited was little more than a collection of frail fiefs.  Akbar continued his military expansion throughout his reign. Known as much for his inclusive leadership style as for his war mongering, Akbar ushered in an era of religious tolerance and appreciation for the arts.  By the time he died, his empire extended to Afghanistan in the north, Sindh in the west, Bengal in the east, and the Godavari River in the south.  Akbar’s success in creating his empire was as much a result of his ability to earn the loyalty of his conquered people as it was of his ability to conquer them. He allied himself with the defeated Rajput rulers, and rather than demanding a high “tribute tax” and leaving them to rule their territories unsupervised, he created a system of central government, integrating them into his administration.

Akbar was known for rewarding talent, loyalty, and intellect, regardless of ethnic background or religious practice. In addition to compiling an able administration, this practice brought stability to his dynasty by establishing a base of loyalty to Akbar that was greater than that of any one religion. He did not force India’s majority Hindu population to convert to Islam; he accommodated them instead, translating Hindu literature and participating in Hindu festivals. Akbar in 1563 repealed a special tax placed on Hindu pilgrims who visited sacred sites, and in 1564 completely repealed the jizya, or yearly tax on non-Muslims. What he lost in revenue by these acts, he more than regained in good-will from the Hindu majority of his subjects.

Akbar also formed powerful matrimonial alliances. When he married Hindu princesses—including Jodha Bai, the eldest daughter of the house of Jaipur, as well princesses of Bikaner and Jaisalmer—their fathers and brothers became members of his court and were elevated to the same status as his Muslim fathers- and brothers-in-law. While marrying off the daughters of conquered Hindu leaders to Muslim royalty was not a new practice, it had always been viewed as a humiliation. By elevating the status of the princesses’ families, Akbar removed this stigma among all but the most orthodox Hindu sects.