It’s early in the morning, the sun’s gentle rays are making the river gleam like a diamond – several thousand devotees are ready to dive into the cold water body… You can see a line of pandals, a gathering of people in all sizes and shapes, there’s laughter, drama and excitement in the air; saffron robes, ash-smeared bodies, chants and screaming are common here. Such is the scene at any Kumbh Mela. The Maha Kumbh celebrated at the Holy Sangam in Allahabad is the largest and holiest, and is being held this year after a long wait of 12 years. Interestingly, holy places, which were once a means for sadhaks to achieve salvation, have become a place for fun and frolic today. However, in between the theatrics, there still exist sages and spiritual aspirants who are able to tap into the energy of the place. But the only way to find out what that experience is, is to take a plunge into the authentic practices yourself.
The literal meaning of Kumbh is a pitcher or kalash. As per our ancient scriptures, the mouth (opening) symbolizes Lord Vishnu, its neck Lord Shiv and the base Lord Brahma; all the goddesses are in the centre and the oceans in the interior. Thus the kumbh encompasses the entire creation.
It is said that during the samudra manthan (churning of the ocean), when the kumbh or urn of amrit (nectar of immortality) came out, a fight ensued between the surs (Devas) and asurs (Rakshas). Lord Vishnu intervened and cleverly flew away with the kumbh of elixir, spilling drops of amrit at four places — Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Therefore it is believed that taking a dip in the holy waters here will wash away all your sins and lead you to salvation.
Devotees and pilgrims usually start bathing from around 3 am. Sadhus commence their bathing from sunrise, with vibrant processions from the mela grounds to the bathing area. The different sects/pandals have a set time for bathing, and it continues until late evening. Other activities include spiritual discussions, devotional singing and langars (food distribution) for holy men and women and the poor. Religious assemblies, where doctrines are debated and standardized are also held.
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