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Kumbha Mela

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Kumbha Mela

Kumbh Mela
Dakshin Ganga River, 1991.
Official name Kumbh Mela, Kumbha Mela, Maha Kumbh Mela, Kumbha Melam
Observed by Hindus
Type Religious
Observances Shahi Snanam (bathing for purification from sin)
Begins Makar Sankranti, 14 January
Ends Maha Shivaratri
2013 date
2014 date
2015 date
2016 date
An article related to
  • Hinduism portal

Kumbh Mela (/ˌkʊm ˈmlə/ or /ˌkʊm məˈlɑː/; Devanagari: कुम्भ मेला "kumbha mēlā", Marathi कुंभमेळा) "kumbh mela" is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be largest peaceful gathering in the world with over 100 million people visiting during the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013.[2] It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayaga), Nashik and Ujjain. Thus the Kumbh Mela is held at each of these four places every twelfth year. Ardha ("Half") Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Haridwar and Allahabad, every sixth year. The rivers at these four places are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nashik, and the Shipra at Ujjain.

The name Kumbh Mela comes from Hindi, and in the original Sanskrit and other Indian languages it is more often known as Kumbha Mela. Kumbha means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Sanskrit. The pilgrimage is held for about one and a half months at each of these four places where it is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the kumbha carried by gods after the sea was churned. The festival is billed as the "world’s largest congregation of religious pilgrims".[3] There is no scientific method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary; approximately 80 million people attended on 14 February 2013.

Mauni Amavasya traditionally attracted the largest crowds at the mela, held here every 12 years. The current Kumbh Mela was held on 14 January 2013 at Allahabad. The day marked the second and the biggest Shahi Snanam (royal bath) of this event, with 13 akharas taking to the Sangam. 10 Feb 2013 was the biggest bathing day at the ongoing Maha Kumbh Mela and probably the largest human gathering on a single day. Over 30 million devotees and ascetics took holy dip on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya.[4]


The first written evidence of the Kumbh Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese monk Xuanzang (玄奘, alternately Hsuan Tsang) who visited India in 629–645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana.[5][6] However, similar observances date back many centuries, where the river festivals first started getting organised. According to medieval Hindu theology, its origin is found in one of the most popular medieval puranas, the Bhagavata Purana. The Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana.[7]

The account goes that the


Kumbh Mela takes place every twelve years at one of four places: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. The Mela in its different forms alternates between Prayag, Nashik, Ujjain and Haridwar every third year.[11][12][13] The Ardha (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at only two places, Haridwar and Prayag.

  • Kumbh Mela: Held at all four places.[14]
  • Ardha Kumbh Mela: Held at Haridwar and Paryag

, every 6 years.

  • Purna Kumbh Mela: Held only at Prayag every 12 years.[15]
  • Maha Kumbh Mela: Held only at Prayag, every 144 years.[16][17]


Triveni Sangam, the meeting place, of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Sarasvati.[18]


On the bank of river Ganga.


There are 14 Akhadas, of which 11 belong to the Shaiva sect (of the 11 Shaiva Akhadasa, one—Bhudada Akhada—is defunct, while 10 are active) and 3 to the Vaishnava sect. The Shaiva Akhadas take a holy dip at Kushavart in Trimbakeshwar, about 30 km from Nashik.[19] The Vaishnav Akhadas perform rituals at Ramkund in Godavari and stay at Tapovan.[20] The Vaishnava Akhadas have Khalsas (religious groups headed by Mahantas attached with Akhadas) attached with them. Both Shaiva and Vaishnava Sadhus used to take the holy dip in Trimbakeshwar, until 1838, when a clash between them led to bloodshed and the Peshwa ruler requested Shaiva sadhus to perform rituals at Trimbakeshwar and Vaishnavs to move downstream to Ramakunda in Nasik.


On the bank of river Shipra.


Year Prayag Nashik Ujjain Haridwar
1983 Ardha Kumbh
1989 Purna Kumbh
1991 Kumbh
1992 Kumbh Ardha kumbh
1995 Ardha Kumbh
1998 Kumbh
2001 Purna[21] Kumbh
2003 Kumbh
2004 Sihasth Ardha Kumbh
2007 Ardha Kumbh
2010 Kumbh
2013 Maha[22] Kumbh -
2015 Kumbh
2016 Sihasth Ardha Kumbh
2019 Ardha Kumbh
2022 Kumbh

Upcoming Kumbh Mela festivals:

  • The next Kumbh Mela will be held at Nashik on the bank of the river Godavari in 2015 (15 August to 13 September). The Kumbh at Ujjain is also called "Simhastha"(as Guru will be in Singh Rashi).[23]
  • Ujjain Purna Kumbh Mela 2016


Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign Leo (Simha Rashi) it is held in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik; when the sun is in Aquarius (Kumbh Rashi) it is celebrated at Haridwar; when Jupiter is in Taurus (Vrishabha Rashi ) and the sun is in Capricorn (Makar Rashi) Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag; and Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio (Vrishchik Rashi) the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain.[24][25] Each site's celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter.[26]


According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar leading to the rapid improvement of arrangements by the authorities and to the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society. In 1903 about 400,000 people are recorded as attending the fair.[25] During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Prayag, around 500 people were killed, and scores were injured. Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on 14 April 1998.[5]

In 2001, more than 40 million gathered on the busiest of its 55 days.[27]

According to the Mela Administration's estimates, around 70 million people participated in the 45-day Ardha Kumbh Mela at Prayag in 2007.[28]

The last "Kumbh Mela" held in 2001 in Prayag was estimated by the authorities to have attracted between 30 and 70 million people.[29][30][31]

The current Maha Kumbh Mela began on 14 January 2013 at Prayag.[32] According to expectations more than 100 million people will attend the 2013 Kumbh mela.[33][34]

The ritual

The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town Kumbh Mela being held:Ganga in Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik, Kshipra in Ujjain and Sangam (confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati) in Allahabad (Prayag. Nasik has registered maximum visitors to 75 million. 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 standardised. Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with Vibhuti ashes dabbed on their skin as per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may not wear any clothes even in severe winter.

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

The order of entering the water is fixed, with the Juna, the Niranjani and Mahanirvani akharas preceding.[35]

Most significant days during the Kumbh Mela

Bhishma Ekadasi Snan

On this day, Bhishma Pithamaha, the oldest, wisest, most powerful and most righteous person belonging to the Kuru dynasty (approx. over 5000 years ago), narrated the greatness of Lord Krishna through Sri Vishnu Sahasranama to Yudhishtira, the oldest brother of Pandavas.[36]

Recent Kumbh Melas


According to Paramahansa Yogananda in his work the Autobiography of a Yogi, it was during the Kumbh Mela in January 1894 at Prayag that his Guru Sri Yukteswar met Mahavatar Babaji for the first time.[37]


When the Kumbh Mela was held in Nashik, India, from 27 July to 7 September 2003, 39 pilgrims (28 women and 11 men) were trampled to death and 57 were injured. Devotees had gathered on the banks of the Godavari river for the maha snaanam 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.[38][39]


More than 70 million people visited Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag.[40]


Haridwar hosted the Purna Kumbh mela from Makar Sankranti (14 January 2010) to Shakh Purnima Snan (28 April 2010). Millions of Hindu pilgrims attended the mela. On 14 April 2010, alone approximately 10 million people bathed in the Ganges river.[41] According to officials by mid April about 40 million people had bathed since 14 January 2010.[42] Hundreds of foreigners joined Indian pilgrims in the festival which is thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world.[42][43] To accommodate the large number of pilgrims Indian Railways ran special trains.[44] At least 5 people died in a stampede after clashes between holy men and devotees.[45]

Indian Space Research Organisation took satellite pictures of the crowds with the hope of improving the conduct of the festival in the future.[46]


The Maha Kumbh Mela was held at Allahabad (Prayag) (14 January to 10 March 2013). An estimated 30 million people visited the Maha Kumbh Mela on 10 February 2013 and an estimated 100 million were expected to visit the place during the festival spread over 55 days.[47] On 10 February 2013 a stampede at the railway station killed 36 and injured at least 39.[48] In the vast crowds some elderly people, predominantly women, are abandoned by their families.[2]

Here are the details of most auspicious days (bathing dates) in year 2013 during Maha Kumbh Festival (mela).[49]

  • 14 January 2013 (Monday) – Makar Sankranti
  • 27 January 2013 (Sunday) – Paush Purnima
  • 6 February 2013 (Wednesday) – Ekadashi Snan
  • 10 February 2013 (Sunday) – Mauni Amavasya Snan (Main Bathing Day)
  • 15 February 2013 (Friday) – Vasant Panchami Snan
  • 17 February 2013 (Sunday) – Rath Saptami Snan
  • 21 February 2013 (Thursday) – Bhisma Ekadashi Snan
  • 25 February 2013 (Monday) – Maghi Purnima Snan
  • 10 March 2013 (Sunday) – Mahashivratri

Kumbh Mela in media


Amrita Kumbher Sandhane, a 1982 Bengali feature film directed by Dilip Roy, documents the Kumbh Mela. Kumbh Mela has been theme for many a documentaries, including "Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth" (2001) directed by Graham Day,[50] On 24 September, The Hindu reported the great faith in god displayed in Kumbh Mela at Nasik which had more than 70 million visitors in 2003 Kumbh Mela. (2004), by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day,[51][52] Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River (2004), by Nadeem Uddin,[53] and Invocation, Kumbh Mela (2008).[54]


Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela is a 2004 documentary film was set in the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. This film is directed by Nick Day and produced by "Maurizio Benazzo".[55]


On 18 April 2010, a popular American morning show The CBS Sunday Morning gave an extensive coverage on Haridwar's Kumbh Mela "The Largest Pilgrimage on Earth". Calling it "one of the most extraordinary displays of faith on Earth, a spectacular journey drawing tens of millions of people".

On 28 April 2010, BBC reported an audio and a video report on Kumbh Mela, titled "Kumbh Mela 'greatest show on earth'.

On 30 September 2010, the Kumbh Mela featured in the second episode of the Sky One TV series "An Idiot Abroad" with Karl Pilkington visiting the festival.


In 2011 the documentary on Kumbh Mela, 'Kumbh Mela: Walking with the Nagas', was produced.


"Amrit: Nectar of Immortality" (2012) is a documentary which was shot at the Kumbh Mela 2010 in Haridwar, this film is directed by Jonas Scheu and Philipp Eyer.[56]


Allahabad: Kumbh Mela 2013, considered to be the biggest congregation of Pilgrims and devotees across the world, yet it turned out also to be a big congregation of Technology.

State government took this opportunity to showcase its achievements.

On 10 Feb 2013, Media reported that 36 people died in a stampede at the Allahabad railway station, the union and state governments have denied that organizational lapses may have contributed to the tragedy; they say the massive rush of passengers, returning from a dip in the waters of the Ganga and Yamuna, at the Maha Kumbh, the world's largest religious festival.

In March, 2013, the documentary "Inside the Mahakumbh" by French filmmaker Diego Buñuel is being shown world-wide.[57]

In 2013 the National Geographic Channel produced the documentary World's Biggest Festival: Kumbh Mela which featured the California-born Baba Rampuri, the first foreigner to become a Sadhu.

In 2013 the documentary River of Faith: A film about the Kumbh Mela 2013 was made.

See also


Further reading

  • Maclean, Kama (2008) Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765–1954 New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-533894-2
  • Balonek, Michael T (2013) Adventures in India: The Maha Kumbh Mela (ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN'S BOOK). CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1482602111
  • Narain, Badri and Kedar Narain (2010) Kumbh Mela and the Sadhus - The Quest for Immortality Varanasi: Pilgrims Publishing. ISBN 978-81-7769-805-3

External links

  • Ujjain Kumbh Mela
  • Photos of Kumbh festival
  • Resources on Kumbh Mela
  • "Amrit Nectar of Immortality", documentary about the Kumbh Mela 2010 in Haridwar
  • Video of the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad from ArtnetworkTV
  • Video of 2010 Maha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar from
  • Photo essay on Kumbh Mela
  • Photos on Kumbh Mela & environment
  • Photos on Kumbh Mela by Spin360 Bourbon Livio

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