Maha Kumbh Mela, 2013 – Children of Light

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Your FaceBook Link to the Kumbh Mela, 2013

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Happy to present facts on this most important Maha Kumbh Mela.  Being a keen photographer myself, the photographs I find are  pretty amazing… I thought you folks would also enjoy them. This was not an easy post to put together due to so many photos but worth the time, I feel….  

The Beginning

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Originally, the demigods had lost their strength from the curse of Durväsä Muni. To regain it, they approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, who directed all the demigods to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu. After prayers to Lord Vishnu, he instructed them to churn the ocean of milk Ksheera Sagara (the primordial ocean of milk) to receive amrita, the nectar of immortality. So they made a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the Asuras demons, to work together with a promise to share the wealth equally. However, when the Kumbha (urn or jar) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights, the equivalent to twelve human years, the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, Lord Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha of elixir but spilling drops of amrita at four locations: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.

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Celestial Aspects

Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign of Leo – Simha Rashi, it is held in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik. When the sun is in Aries – Mesha Rashi, it is celebrated at Haridwar. When Jupiter is in Taurus – Vrishabha Rashi, and the sun is in Capricorn – Makar Rashi, the Kumbha Mela is celebrated at Prayag; and when Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio – Vrishchik Rashi, the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain.

Each site’s celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter

Overview

This festival has been held on the banks of the Ganges for thousands of years.

The event, held every 12 years, is billed as the biggest gathering on Earth. More than 100 million people are expected to attend the 55-day festival.

The 2013 gathering is a Maha Kumbh and this only happens after 12 purna kumbhs or about every 144 years – and it is always held at Allahabad. Hence this year’s festival is known as a Maha Kumbh and will last for 55 days, a period of time determined by an astrological calculation described above.

Preparing For Millions

Sunday Evening

On Sunday night, smoke could be seen rising from hundreds of small fires which people had built to cook dinner or keep warm.

Monday 14 January,2013

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The festival formally started at dawn and all roads leading to the Kumbh Mela grounds are now packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Here is a run-down on this morning’s events :

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05:17 IST (23:47 GMT)

kumbha17At 5am, Sangam is a hub of frantic activity. Thousands of pilgrims have already taken a dip in the holy waters, thousands are lining up for their turn and thousands more are walking towards the river front.

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The air here smells smoky from all the fires which people have burned overnight to stay warm.

There is a chill in the air this morning as holy men sprint into the waters in Allahabad, but the day dawned warmer than in recent weeks when a cold snap hit northern India.

06:44 IST (01:14 GMT)

Sadhus on the banks of the river shout “Try it for yourself!”

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The first group of Naga sadhus (ascetics) arrived in a colourful procession. Led by naked ash-smeared men with marigold garlands around their necks, they sprinted into the chilly waters of Sangam.

Dip over, some came and stood before us rubbing coarse river sand on their bodies.

I was able to ask an old sadhu if he felt the cold. “Not at all” he said and handed me some sand: “Try it for yourself!”

07:33 IST (02:03 GMT)

kumbha1The sadhus from the Niranjani akhara (camp) arrive in a huge procession.

The naked ash-smeared men arrived in a colourful procession and waded into the chilly waters of Sangam – the point at which the rivers converge.

The sadhus have been leading processions accompanied by elephants, camels, horses, chariots and music bands in recent days.

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Ascetic and Horse

Although the sky is still dark, the bathing ghats are lit up with thousands of electric bulbs.

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The group of several hundred naked ascetics, has a reputation for being rather unfriendly and they are accompanied by the elite commandos of the RAF (rapid action force). The pesky journalists and tourists are reined in behind police lines “for your own protection,” we are told.

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The group takes 45 minutes to bathe after which they are escorted out by the RAF troops.

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08:56 IST (03:26 GMT)

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As waves of naked ash-smeared ascetics continue to arrive and sprint towards the river, thousands of bathers in nearby enclosures watch in awe.

One sadhu, with long matted hair, stops and does a joyous jig for the furiously clicking cameras.

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Women Ascetics Also Take Part in the Kumbh Mela

womanasceticIn a departure from tradition, a large number of women ascetics have also come for a bath at Sangam. Dressed in bright saffron-coloured saris and robes, they seemed to be enjoying all the attention. Some laughed and chatted amongst themselves, some even posed for pictures.

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the women kumbhaMeanwhile, in the next enclosure, thousands of ordinary pilgrims – men and women, old and young – are moving in orderly lines for their bathing rituals.

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11:00 IST (05:30 GMT)

kumbha16The crowd management at the river front so far has been impressive.

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As soon as pilgrims finish bathing, they are encouraged to move away and make space for other bathers.kumbha9

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Away from the river front, the mela area is bustling with small roadside vendors selling tea, sweets, colourful photographs of Hindu deities and small round white candies generally offered at the temple altar.

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Pilgrims Give Alms to Children Dressed as Hindu Gods

childgoddessOn one street, several toddlers dressed as Hindu deities sit by the roadside as many passing pilgrims hand them coins.

“Their parents are very clever,” an old man tells me, “for who can refuse alms to a pretty child dressed as a god or goddess?”

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Later

Several million people have been bathing at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers at Allahabad in India, on this opening day of the Kumbh Mela festival with at least 10 million pilgrims set to do so by the end of today.

Police estimated that, by late afternoon, about 7.5 million people had bathed. They also say that the festival is expected to draw over a million foreign tourists.

For festival-goers, one of the most memorable spectacles of the day was when the Naga sadhus, or ascetics, sprinted into the river reciting religious chants, many clad only in marigold garlands.

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In Numbers

  • Visitors: 80-100 million
  • Number of days: 55
  • Area: 20 sq km (4,932 acres)
  • Drinking water: 80 million litres
  • Toilets: 35,000
  • Doctors: 243
  • Police: 30,000
  • Hospitals: 14

Fourteen temporary hospitals have been set up with 243 doctors deployed round-the-clock, and more than 35,000 toilets have been built for the pilgrims.

Official Website of Kumbh Mela, 2013
Official Website of Kumbh Mela, 2013

Kumbha Update – Children Of Light

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Har Simran Das, from the northern state of Haryana, owns 300 cows. Until two years ago when he became a sadhu (ascetic) and joined an akhara (religious commune), he dabbled in village-level politics.

“Ever since my childhood, I wanted to serve the people. Now my children are all grown up and living their own lives, I thought this was the time for me to fulfil my dream.”

Mr Das says he is attending the Kumbh on orders from his guru, but he doesn’t believe that bathing at the Sangam will cleanse him of his sins.

“If we worship god morning and evening, but do bad deeds for the rest of the day, then I’m not a true disciple.”

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Chhote Lal, a farmer from Madhya Pradesh, has been in Allahabad for the last few days and has been coming everyday for a bath at the Sangam – where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet the mythical Saraswati river.

“My life’s nearly over, but I wish well for my family and I’m here to pray for them. Millions of people visit the Kumbh festival, they must be coming here for something.”

The Magic of India, Mark Tully – Child of Light

marktully2Sir Mark Tully KBE, (born William Mark Tully in 1935) is the former Bureau Chief of BBC, New Delhi. He worked for BBC for a period of 30 years before resigning in July 1994. He held the position of Chief of Bureau, BBC, Delhi for 20 years.

Born in Calcutta, India, his father was a British businessman who was a partner in one of the leading managing agencies of the British Raj. Tully spent the first decade of his childhood in India, although without being allowed to socialise with Indian people, before going to England for schooling. He was educated at Twyford School, Marlborough College and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied Theology.

marktullyAs a guest of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue on 7 October 2010, Mr Tully spoke on “How Certain Should We Be? – The Problem of Religious Pluralism”. He described his experiences and the fact that India had historically been home to all the world’s major religions. He said that had taught him that there are many ways to God.

Tully is patron of the British branch of Child In Need India and is equally well versed in English and Hindi.

His report follows.

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The Mela

In my long years in India I have seen many spectacles but none so remarkable as the two Maha or Great Kumbh Melas which I attended.

kumbha4I have seen vast crowds assemble but none as big as the millions who flocked to the north Indian city of Allahabad to bathe at the confluence where the cloudy waters of the river Ganges meet the blue waters of the river Yamuna on the most auspicious day of those Melas.

I have never been more forcefully reminded that India’s age old culture still survives than I have been by those two Kumbh Melas.

A Variety of Pagentry

kumbha10Anyone who wants to enjoy the Kumbh Mela to the full must appreciate its many different aspects.

There was no frenzy, just the calm certainty of faith; the knowledge that “what had to be done had been done”

It is, of course, a great religious festival, the world’s largest we are told, but there is much more to it than just the great bathing day, spectacular though that is.

Most spectacular of all are the naked sadhus or holy men, who careen through the crowds dancing to the frenzied beat of drums and leaping in the air as they charge in to the river to bathe.

Then there are the sadhus to be seen on any day performing amazing acts of asceticism.

One sadhu I saw had held his arm up so long that it was withered and his nails curved round like talons, another was standing on one leg, and a third lying on a bed of thorns.

Philosophy

kumbha15At Kumbh Melas there is much religious teaching also, and a multitude of discourses.

They demonstrate the wide variety of Hindu traditions, and Hinduism’s tolerance too. Some of the discourses seemed to me obscure, some profound, and some surprising.

The devotees of the 15th Century saint Kabir told me they condemned images of the deities and maintained that washing under a tap was just as good as bathing in the Ganges. No-one seemed to object to their unorthodox views. Perhaps that’s because Hinduism is so varied that for most Hindus there is no concept of heresy.

Hindu pluralism is also shown by the different creation myths the Mela commemorates.

The Urn

kumbha17The word ‘Kumbh’ means an urn, and one of the several myths is the story of an urn filled with the nectar of immortality which emerged from the primeval waters when they were being churned by gods and demons.

The urn was snatched by demons but the son of the ruler of heaven, the god Indira, recovered it. Drops from the urn fell at the Sangam and other places in India where Kumbh Melas are held.

Business

kumbha6Mela means a fair, and as with all fairs plenty of business is done at Kumbh Melas.

There are stalls selling everything a pilgrim might need including, of course, the accoutrements required for pujas, or worship. Barbers shaving heads do a roaring trade. The traditional priests who keep family records set up their stalls and do good business updating genealogies and performing ceremonies for the souls of the dead.

Both Kumbh Melas I saw were remarkable feats of organisation, occasions when the much-maligned Indian civil servants covered themselves with glory.

They constructed a vast tented city, laying down miles of steel plates for roads and constructing pontoon bridges. The administration also insured there was food for the pilgrims, and water too – sanitation, as well as electricity.

kumbha11The police, not usually renowned for their gentleness, were politeness personified as they shepherded millions of pilgrims down to the river banks, keeping them in orderly queues, and insured their safety while bathing. But in this they were helped by Indians remarkable ability to organise themselves in situations which in most other countries would degenerate into chaos.

Faith

Faith is the key to the Kumbh Mela.

It is a wonderful spectacle, a great demonstration of the variety and vigour of Hinduism, an occasion to preach politics and conduct business, but there would be no Kumbh Mela were it not for the faith that draws millions of pilgrims to the Sangam in Allahabad.

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Uploaded on Nov 8, 2007

May 1998
For the last time this century the Indian city of Haridwar in the foothills of the Himalayas was the setting for the mother of all holy Festivals