Kumbha (Kumbha means pot) Mela (Mela means gathering or meet or simply fare) is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage that takes place at the following four locations of India:
- Prayag (near the city of Allahabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh) at the confluence of three rivers Ganga (Ganges), Yamuna and Saraswati.
- Haridwar (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) where the river Ganga enters the plains from Himalayas.
- Ujjain (in Madhya Pradesh), on the banks of Ksipra river, and
- Nasik (in Maharashtra) on the banks of Godavari river.
The Ardh Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, while the Purna (complete) Kumbh always takes place at Allahabad every twelve years.
The Maha Kumbh Mela ('Great' Kumbh Mela) which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas' which is after every 144 years is also held at Allahabad. The 2001, Maha Kumbh Mela was attended by around 60 million people, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
According to Indian astrology, it is celebrated when the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) moves into the zodiac sign of Aquarius or Kumbha. Each sites celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter.
The observance of Kumbha Mela is based upon the following story: thousands of years ago, perhaps in the Vedic period, gods and demons made a temporary agreement to work together in obtaining amrita (the nectar of immortality) from the Milky Ocean, and to share this equally. However, when the Kumbha (pot) containing the amrita appeared, the demons ran away with the pot and were chased by the gods. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years) the Gods and demons fought in the sky for the possession of this pot of amrita. It is said that during the battle, drops of amrita fell on to four places: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Thus, Kumbha mela is observed at these four locations where the nectar fell.
A ritual bath at a predetermined time and place is the major event of this festival. Thousands of holy men/women (monks, saints, sadhus) grace the occasion by their presence. A holy dip in the river is considered to wash away all your past sins. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men/women and the poor, and religious assemblies.
Kumbha Mela has gained international fame as "the world's most massive act of faith." Pilgrims come to this holy event with such tremendous faith and in such overwhelming numbers that it boggles the mind. Faith is the most important thing for the pilgrims at Kumbha Mela.