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.”
Jai Singh II, a child prodigy, came to the Rajput throne in 1699. The young lad quickly impressed the 71-year-old Aurangzeb who awarded him the title ‘Sawai’, meaning one-and-a-quarter. Jai Singh II, having proved his soldiering ability further enriched his coffers and fulfilled his other passions – the arts and sciences. The impressive giant stone instruments which he devised for the open-air observatories at Jaipur, Delhi, Ujjain and Varanasi stand testimony to his scientific prowess. After ascending the throne, he shifted the capital from Amer. He studied the architecture of several European cities and drew up plans for constructing a larger and well-planned city.
After building close bonds with the Mughals and sure that there could be no danger to his throne, Sawai Jai Singh, envisioned his dream project, the building of Jaipur. The foundation stone was laid by him in 1727 and an eminent architect from Bengal, Vidyadhar Bhattacharaya, was asked to design the city. Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, following the principles of Shilpa Shastra, and referencing the ancient Indian knowledge on astronomy, further developed and discussed the plan with Jai Singh. It is said that the foundation of the city was laid down on 18th November 1727 by Jai Singh himself. It took minutely planned strategies and 4 years for the city to come to form. The city was named Jaipur as ‘Jai’ means victory and was also the ruler’s first name. That it was later chosen as the capital of Rajasthan formed from the amalgamation of various kingdoms, was a tribute to both Jai Singh and Bhattacharya.
The city was planned in a grid system of seven blocks of buildings with wide straight avenues lined with trees, with the palace set on the north side. Surrounding it are high walls pieced with ten gates. The site of the shops were chosen after careful planning and they are arranged in nine rectangular city sectors (chokris). Jaipur was the first sizable city in north India to be built from scratch, though the famous pink colour symbolizing welcome, came later when Ram Singh II received the Prince of Wales in 1876. The colour was chosen after several experiments to cut down the intense glare from the reflection of the blazing rays of the sun. To this day, the buildings are uniformly rose pink.