Kumbh – the greatest spectacle of faith on earth

Kumbh Mela is always a great attraction, particularly when you feel you have sinned and that you are “dented and painted” and need a ‘clean wash’ to live a peaceful and guilt-free life hereafter.

No wonder millions of devotees have descended these days for the Maha Kumbh at Allahabad to take part in the most important pilgrimage in a Hindu’s life, at the Sangam in Prayag — the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Sarasvati. It is believed a holy dip in the river here purifies you of all the sins that you have committed, knowingly or unknowingly.

Even a man like Mark Twain was attracted by the Kumbh. His  observations on the Kumbh Mela when  visited it in 1895 are quite revealing: “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old 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…”

The first written evidence of the Kumbh Mela can be traced to Huan Tsang, the Chinese traveler who toured India during  629- 645 AD. True, we can also get references in the Bhagvata Puranas, the Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

Legend has it that the demigods had lost their power because of the curse of Durvasa Muni. They were very keen to regain it but could do so only with the help of Brahma and Shiva. When approached, they directed the demigods to Lord Vishnu who instructed them to “churn the ocean of milk” in order to get the “nectar of immortality.” At the same time, they were to have a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the demons, requiring them to work together and share the booty equally. They did so but when the Kumbh containing the ‘amrita’ appeared, they started a bitter fight for 12 days and 12 nights, equivalent to (our) 12 years.

When Lord Vishnu saw this fight, he, incarnated as Mohini Murti, flew away with the pot of elixir, spilling drops of ‘amrita’ at four places – Allahabad, Ujjain, Haridwar and Nashik – the places where Kumbh is celebrated.

The frenzy and the faith exhibited by the millions gathered at the Sangam is perhaps the greatest spectacle of beauty, colour and unity of a highly diverse India. No one can claim to have understood India without a pilgrimage to the Kumbh. After all, life is not all science and hard facts.

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