Kumbh Mela is an event which is ingrained deeply in the imagination of every Indian. It is considered as the most sacred of all pilgrimages. It will be difficult to find a family in India where at least one person in the last two generations didn’t make it to either of the Kumbh Melas. In a way, this is an ultimate pilgrimage which every Hindu aspires to do once in his lifetime. It involves taking a dip in the holy river during the particular period, which is said to cleanse away the sins and pave the passage towards one's eternal journey to moksha.
I got to know about the Kumbh Mela for the first time when I was ten years old. My grandfather, who used to stay in Anandpur Sahib at Punjab, stopped over at our home in Delhi while on the way to attend Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj. Though, I did not understand the complete perspective about the Mela till about a couple of years later but knew something about its importance. My grandmother, who died at the age of 93 years in 1998, attended all the Kumbh Melas from 1940 till she died except the one in 1996 due to health reasons. My parents have also been to many Kumbh Melas.
There have been many folklores around the Kumbh Mela. The Indian moviedom has also captured about the Kumbh fairs through real and fictional stories.
The Kumbh Mela (fair) is an event which takes place at four cities and returns to the same town after 12 years. The Haridwar Kumbh Mela takes place on the banks of river Ganga, the one at Prayagraj take place at the confluence of river Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati. The ones at Nashik and Ujjain take place on the banks of river Godavari and Shipra. At Haridwar and Prayagraj, there is an Ardh (half) Kumbh which takes place after six years from the main Kumbh. Amongst all these, the Kumbh at Prayagraj is the oldest one and is the most attended. Though there are different schools of thoughts on this. Many say that the Kumbh at Haridwar is the original and the oldest one. All other three Kumbh’s are the later offshoots of the same.
It is believed, basis the study of various ancient religious books like Puranas that Kumbh Mela started sometime between 3rd Century CE to 7th Century CE. The discussion is still inconclusive. Nonetheless, the Kumbh Melas are the largest gathering of the religious pilgrims on the earth. As per the reports, about 120 million devotees participated in the Kumbh 2019, and it has created a couple of Guinness records.
I had never attended any Kumbh Mela, and Prayagraj Kumbh was coming up soon. The authorities had been going full swing to ensure the smooth conduct of the fair and at the same time ensuring to provide better facilities for the devotees. We could also see the pictures which had started filtering out and floating around in the media. The newspapers, TV channels, and social media were full of details about the makeover the entire city had been given to immerse it in the Kumbh colors.
The entire town had acquired a holy touch. The street-art, murals, and statues were everywhere alongside the roads, streets, and crossings depicting religious stories. These included stories from various scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata. All the areas linked with Kumbh directly or indirectly in the whole city had been beautified. The publicity and the visibility which had been created about the event and related arrangements for pilgrims by the organizing authorities made us decide to take a day-long trip from Delhi... A Holy Trip.
One of my wife's colleagues was based at Prayagaraj around that time. He offered to be our host and a guide during our trip. We happily grabbed his offer, knowing fully well that the town will be overflowing with devotees from the different parts of the country as well as outside. In such a huge gathering, it is always good to have someone local who can navigate us through, especially considering that the Kumbh area is spread across around thirty-five square km.
We now realize that it was the best thing to have happened on this trip. As an outsider, we just went to the Kumbh area and had returned after the holy dip. Ravi took us for the tour around the entire city. We could see the way the whole town had been immersed in the spirit of the Kumbh, and the new aesthetic looks it had acquired. One could sense the pulse of a significant event all across. The local people are happy with the new avatar of the city as the infrastructure which has been created is here to stay forever.
It was a quick trip as we took a night bus on 13th night. We spent the entire day at Prayagraj and made the return journey on 14th night to reach back home in the early morning of 15th. The overall experience though very short was enjoyable and unforgettable. We did miss out on many other things in the city which needed much longer time than what we had. These were like surfing in the temporary city, Kalpavas, Pandals, night view of the town, etc. However, we do not regret it as we did not have them on our agenda when we planned this trip. However, we are now eagerly looking forward to visiting the city to attend the next Kumbh Mela, which will be in 2025.
We might be in the city even before for the annual Magh Mela. After reaching Prayagraj, we straightaway went to Ravi's house and shortly after that left for the Kumbh area. I will continue in my next post about my unforgettable moments.
Before I close, I would like to add that UNESCO has recently inscribed the Kumbh Mela on the representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. If someone wants to explore the religious history of the world, then a trip to one of the Kumbh Mela shall be on the list.