The great rivers have played a significant role in cultural development; on the banks of which the famous ancient kingdoms were flourished. In India, almost all major cities were on the banks of rivers. The most important is the Ganges River or the Ganga River. Many of the holiest Indian cities grew along her banks. There are many fairs and festivals held in and around rivers, the most important being the “Kumbh Mela,” the biggest show on earth. The costume drama of Nirvana and the naked dance of asceticism, the Kumbh Mela has many interesting facts worth knowing. Let’s explore some fascinating facts about the Kumbh Mela:
1. World’s Largest Public Gathering
The Kumbh Mela is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith, anywhere in the world. The Mela draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of approximately 50 days.
Source: kumbh.gov.in, Image: Flickr
2. Gods vs Demons
The Kumbh Mela derives its origin from a legend; describing a war between gods and demons over possession of the elixir of life.
Source: Wikipedia, Source: Wikimedia
3. Churning Of The Ocean
According to the legend of Samudra Manthan (churning of the milk ocean), the reason behind the battle between gods and demons was the elixir or nectar, which was produced during Samudra Manthan.
Source: nationalgeographic.com, Image: Wikimedia
4. A Pot Of Nectar
To prevent the demons from seizing the Amrita (the elixir of eternal life), gods placed it in a Kumbha (a pot). The Kumbh Mela derives its name from this pot of nectar.
Source: sify.com, Image: Wikimedia
5. The Divine Carrier Of The Pot Of Nectar
According to a legend, a divine carried flew away with Kumbha (the pot of nectar). There are two stories over the divine carrier of Kumbha. According to one story, the carrier of the Kumbha is the divine physician Dhanavantari; while another story says that the carrier is Garuda, Indra or Mohini.
Source: Wikipedia, GIF: pinimg.com
6. Held At Four Places
The Kumbh Mela spans over four places in India- Haridwar on the Ganges River in Uttarakhand, Ujjain on the Shipra River in Madhya Pradesh, Nashik on the Godavari River in Maharashtra, and Prayagraj (previously known as Allahabad) at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh.
Source: kumbh.gov.in, GIF: miro.medium.com
7. Spilling Of Nectar
According to one legend, the Kumbh Mela is held at four places; because, when the divine carrier, Garuda, flew away with Kumbha (the pot of nectar), the nectar was spilled over four places- Haridwar, Nashik, Ujjain, and Allahabad (now, Prayagraj). According to another legend, the divine carrier of the Kumbha, Dhanavantari, stopped at four places where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated.
8. No Mention Of Kumbh Mela In Ancient Texts
Though the legend of Samudra Manthan is mentioned in several ancient texts, none of them mentions the spilling of Amrita (the elixir of eternal life) at four places. Neither do these texts mention the Kumbh Mela.
Source: Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954 By Kama Maclean
9. Twelve Days = Twelve Years
The Kumbh Mela is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years; because the battle between gods and demons went on for twelve days, and twelve days for the gods are equivalent to 12 years for humans.
10. The Earliest Mention Of Kumbh Mela
Though it’s uncertain when the river-side Mela (festivals) came to be called the Kumbh Mela, the earliest mention of any type of Mela to be held at the current location of the Kumbh Mela is by Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang, a 7th century Chinese Buddhist Monk, scholar, and traveler) in 644 CE.
Source: Kumbha: India’s Ageless Festival by Dilip Kumar Roy and Indira Devi, Image: Wikimedia
11. The Oldest Kumbh Mela
According to several ancient Indian texts, the Magh Fair at Allahabad (now, Prayagraj) might be the oldest fair; although it was not called the Kumbh Mela at those time.
Source: Source: Kumbha: India’s Ageless Festival by Dilip Kumar Roy and Indira Devi, Image: Wikimedia
12. The Original Kumbh Mela
The fair at Haridwar is considered to be the original Kumbh Mela, which is held according to the astrological sign “Kumbha” (Aquarius). With the passage of time, fairs at the other three places, i.e., Nashik, Ujjain, and Prayagraj, were renamed as Kumbh Mela.
Source: Wikipedia, Image: Wikimedia
13. The Person Who Started The Kumbh Mela
The first official document to mention the earliest start of the Kumbh Mela is by the 7th-century Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang mentioned that it was the Emperor Harshavardhana or Harsha who first started a Kumbh-like fair where half a million people had gathered at Prayag to bathe in the rivers.
Source: No Full Stops in India By Mark Tully
14. From Po-lo-ye-kia To Allahabad, And Finally To Prayagraj
Well, during the reign of the Emperor Harshavardhana, the area where the Kumbh Mela used to be held was known as Po-lo-ye-kia. Later, it was renamed as Allahabad, which was again renamed as Prayagraj in 2018.
Source: Buddhist records of the Western world (Xuanzang) by Samuel Beal, Image: Wikimedia
15. The Modern Beginnings Of The Ancient Kumbh Mela
Although the Magh Mela of Allahabad has been mentioned in several Puranas, its association with the Kumbha myth is relatively recent. The first British reference of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad occurs in a report of 1868, which mentions the “Coomb Fair” to be held in January 1870.
Source: Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbh Mela in Allahabad by Kama MacLean
16. Magh Mela-Turned Kumbh Mela
It’s believed that the Brahmin priests of Allahabad adapted the annual Magh Mela to Kumbh legend to increase the significance of Prayagraj.
Source: Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbh Mela in Allahabad by Kama MacLean, Image: prabhatbooks.com
17. You Can Witness A Maha Kumbh Mela Only Once In Your Lifetime
Well, the rule doesn’t apply to you if you go on living for more than 144 years; as the Maha Kumbh occurs after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas i.e. every 144 years. So, a person may witness the Maha Kumbh Mela only once in his/her lifetime.
Source: The Basis of Civilization–water Science? By Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (Italy)
18. The Youngest Of Kumbh Melas
Besides the Maha Kumbh and Kumbh Melas, there is another fair called the Ardh Kumbh Mela, which takes place at Allahabad and Haridwar; every 6 years between the two Purna Kumbh Melas.
Source: The Basis of Civilization–water Science? By Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (Italy)
19. A Congregation Of Armed Saints
The most interesting feature of the Kumbh Melas is various Akharas. An Akhara is a congregation of armed saints. These Akharas were evolved after the brutal treatment of Hindus by the Muslim Rulers. Some sources claim that it was Adi Shankara who developed the culture of Akharas at Allahabad in the 8th century.
Source: Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbh Mela in Allahabad by Kama MacLean, Image: Wikimedia
20. Akhara vs Akhara
Since the start of the Akhara culture, the armed saints of various Akharas have been fighting over their supremacy. Earlier, there were only four main Akharas, but due to the ideological differences, later these Akharas were divided into 13 main Akharas; mainly of Shaiv, Vaishnav, and Udasin sects. Often the news of a feud between the Akharas makes headlines.
Source: No Full Stops in India By Mark Tully, Image: Wikimedia
21. Women Are Not Allowed
All Akharas invite women saints to get trained as Sadhvis (women saints) except the Avahan Akhara, which doesn’t allow women into their Akhara. However, in 2013, a separate Akhara for women was born called Pari Akhara.
Source: bbc.com, Image: akharapari.com
22. A Guild Of Transgender Saints
In the 2109 Prayagraj Kumbh, a separate Akhara for “Kinnars” (transgenders) was included for the first time.
Source: bbc.com, Video: OhFact
23. The Most Educated Akhara
Niranjani Akhara is considered the most educated Akhara, and it has more than 50 Mahamandleshwaras.
Source: aajtak.intoday.in, Image: Wikimedia
24. No Smoking Please!
Most of the Naga Sadhus of various Akharas have been typecast as chain smokers. However, Nirmal Akhara doesn’t give permission to smoke. It’s the only Akhara where you wouldn’t spot any saint smoking.
Source: aajtak.intoday.in, Image: Flickr
25. One Mela; Many Religions
A British civil servant, Robert Montgomery Martin, described in his book about the 1858 Haridwar Kumbh Mela that the visitors from many races and religions including the Persian people, Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians also preached at the Mela.
Source: The Indian Empire by Robert Montgomery Martin, Image: amazonaws.com
26. Gave Rise To The Cholera Outbreaks And Pandemics
Earlier, the cholera outbreaks and pandemics were normal in India, and the Kumbh Melas played a significant role in the spread of cholera outbreaks and pandemics.
Source: The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India edited by Biswamoy Pati, Mark Harrison
27. A Hotspot Of Stampedes
The Kumbh Melas have always been prone to stampedes. Since the start of the Kumbh Melas, several Kumbh Mela stampedes have made headlines including the deadliest stampede of the 1954 Allahabad Kumbh Mela, which left 800 people dead, and the 1820 Haridwar Kumbh Mela, which left 485 people dead.
Source: rediff.com, Video: British Pathé
28. Rising Attendance At The Kumbh Mela
Since the inception of the Kumbh Melas, every Kumbh Mela has witnessed a rise in attendance and scale from the previous Mela. With more than 120 million people in attendance, the 2013 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad witnessed the greatest number of public gathering ever on earth.
Source: thehindu.com, Video: OhFact
29. The Highest Among All Pilgrimages
Although the Kumbh Mela takes place at four places- Prayag, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain; the Prayagraj Kumbh Mela is considered the highest among all pilgrimages in Hinduism; as Prayag is the only confluence of 3 holiest rivers (Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati). The confluence of these three rivers is called Sangam or Triveni.
Source: financialexpress.com, Image: OhFact
30. Come And Spend The Whole Month Here
The Prayagraj Kumbh Mela attracts visitors from across the world; most of them spend the whole month of Magh (between January and February) in a quest for salvation through Yoga and prayers. The ritual of spending the whole Magh month at Prayagraj is called “Kalpvas.”
Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com, Image: nationalgeographic.com
31. The Royal Procession Of The Naga Sadhus
The arrival of the members of an akhara, or sect of sadhus, at the Maha Kumbh Mela venue is called the “Peshwai Procession.” Sadhus of various Akharas arrive at the Mela venue; sitting on gold and silver thrones atop elephants, on horse-driven chariots, and some on foot. The ash-smeared Naga Sadhus; blindly swinging gleaming swords, silver staffs, and fiery Trishuls, always remain the center of attraction at the Kumbh Mela. The royal processions of the akharas are regarded as landmark events at the Kumbh Mela.
Source: newindianexpress.com, Image: Wikimedia
32. Wash Away All Your Sins
The major ritual at the Kumbh Mela is bathing at the banks of the river. Although all the Kumbh venues are significant, bathing at the Sangam in Prayag, is considered the most sacred one. It’s believed that a dip in the holy water at the Kumbh Mela, washes away all your sins.
Source: kumbh.gov.in, Image: OhFact
33. Kumbha Mela In Popular Media
Kumbh Mela has been extensively featured in several films and documentaries including Inside the Mahakumbh (2013) by the National Geographic Channel, Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth (2001) directed by Graham Day, Amrit: Nectar of Immortality (2012) directed by Jonas Scheu and Philipp Eyer, and many more.
Source: Wikipedia, Video: National Geographic India
34. The Most Notorious Feature Of The Kumbh Mela
The Kumbh Mela is notorious for being a venue where many people get separated from their family. Young siblings getting separated were once a recurring feature in the Bollywood movies. Almost 10 times a minute, the public address system at the Mela announces about the persons who have been separated from their families. However, modern technologies including cell phones and CCTVs are coming to the rescue of the lost ones.
Source: rediff.com, Video: ANI
35. Extensively Covered By The Foreign Media
The Kumbh Mela is the most extensively covered fair in the world by foreign media. Every time a Kumbh Mela occurs, there would come a guild of foreign media to cover the Mela. In 2010, the Haridwar Kumbh Mela was featured in CBS News Sunday Morning, a popular American morning show. The same year, BBC also released a report on Kumbh Mela, titled “Kumbh Mela ‘greatest show on earth.”
Source: Wikipedia, Image: OhFact
36. Based On The Astrological Calculations
There is a specific astrological calculation behind every Kumbh Melas. When Jupiter enters the Aquarius constellation and the Sun moved into the Aries constellation, the Kumbh Mela is held at Haridwar. When Jupiter moves into Leo, it’s Nashik Kumbh Mela. When Jupiter moves into Leo, along with the Sun moving into the Aries constellation, it’s Ujjain Kumbh Mela. When the Sun enters the Capricorn and Jupiter moves into Taurus, the Kumbh Mela is held at Prayagraj.
37. The Five Elements Of Nature At One Place
During the Kumbh Mela, the ritual of Aarti is one of the most popular attractions. The gleaming procession of Aartis on the riverbanks is attended by millions of people on special festive days. The lamps held by the priests, who chant hymns with great fervor, represent the importance of Panchtatva (the five elements of nature i.e., Bhumi (earth), Jal (water), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), and Aakash (space)). During the procession of Aarti on the riverbanks, all these five elements are supposed to be present at one place.
Source: kumbh.gov.in, Image: pexels.com
38. Highly Educated Naga Sadhus
Naga Sadhus always remain the frontrunner when it comes to the most interesting attractions of the Kumbh Mela. Naga Sadhus are those who have relinquished all the material pleasures and have adapted to the astute ascetic life. These Naga Sadhus do not wear any clothes and remain completely naked even during the severe winters. Reportedly, many highly educated persons from engineering to management studies are relinquishing the material world to become a Naga Sadhu.
39. Hightech Naga Sadhus
In recent times, Naga Sadhus have been spotted using smartphones and other gazettes. They can often be spotted using WhatsApp, Facebook, and taking selfies.
Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com, Image: Wikimedia
40. Initiation Of New Naga Sadhus
One can only become a Naga Sadhu during the Kumbh Melas. The ritual for new members takes place during every Kumbh Mela. Thousands of people of different age groups attend the Kumbh Mela to take the Diksha to become Naga Sadhus.
Source: oneindia.com, Video: OhFact
41. UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity”
Being the most sacred pilgrimage of Hinduism, and the venue of the highest social gathering on earth, the Kumbh Mela was inscribed on UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list in 2017.
Source: cnn.com, Image: UNESCO Twitter Handle
42. A Gathering Of Migratory Birds
Besides witnessing the largest public gathering on earth, the Triveni Sangam in Prayag also attracts thousands of migratory birds- the Siberian Gulls. These birds cover thousands of kilometers all the way from Siberia via Afghanistan, Mongolia and Tibet crossing high Himalayan mountains. These migratory birds start arriving here in October and fly back by the end of March.
Source: indroyc.com, Video: OhFact
43. Commercial Naga Sadhus
With the evolution of the Kumbh Mela, many Naga Sadhus have turned into money-makers; as one would get blessings by them only after offering them some money.
Source: Ohfact Team’s visit to the 2019 Prayagraj Kumbh Mela, Video: OhFact