Kumbh Mela is the largest religious congregation in the world, takes place every 12 years on the banks of the Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. It attracts millions of people from across the globe for 55 days.
The Kumbh festival gets bigger with every edition. In 2001, over 40 million people attended the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. At the Ardh Kumbh Mela in 2007, over 70 million people graced the banks of the Ganga at Prayag.
This year’s Kumbh mela is expected to bring together 100 million people from different part of India and from countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Indonesia and Japan.
Kumbh also holds a special reverence in other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism and tens of thousands of monks visit the Kumbh to take a dip in the sacred waters.
Here are 10 things about the Kumbh Mela that you probably didn’t know
1. Kumbh, literally means ‘pitcher’. As per Hindu scriptures, the festival got its name after the four drops of elixir obtained in Samudra Manthan that fell on Earth during the struggle between devas and asuras for immortality. Kumbh is celebrated at the four places where the four drops are supposed to have fallen — Prayag, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain.
2. During the 55 days that the event is held, the entire Kumbh Mela area is designated as a district. The makeshift township is constructed and deconstructed within weeks.
3. The Kumbh mela has its own police station, fire station, post office, railways reservation counter which is rebuilt every 12 years.
4. The order in which the Sadhus enter the water is fixed. First the Juna, and the Niranjani and Mahanirvani akharas proceed into the water.
5. The first written evidence of the Kumbh Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveller Huan Tsang who visited India in 629–645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana.
6. The Kumbh Festival starts from Haridwar and is celebrated at Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain at an interval of 3 years. The celebrations return to Allahabad after 12 years.
7. Over fifteen pontoon bridges and 35,000 toilets have been set up for the nearly two-month long Mela this time.
8. 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. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.
9. The Kumbh Mela is going to be the subject of a case study at Harvard University. Researchers will study the logistics and economics behind it, and the ‘pop-up mega-city’ that comes to life in Allahabad during the religious event.
10. The total area of the Mela premises is 50.83 square kilometres, almost double the size of the event in 2001 and more than 200 times the area of Vatican City, world’s smallest country.