History of Kumbh Mela

Kurma Avatar of Vishnu, below Mount Mandara, with Vasuki wrapped around it, during Samudra manthan, the churning of the ocean of milk.

The observance of Kumbh Mela dates back many centuries in Ancient India, to the Vedic period, where the river festivals first started getting organised. In Hindu mythology, its origin is found the one of the popular creation myths and the Hindu theories on evolution, the Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), which finds mention in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

The Gods had lost their strength, and to regain it, they thought of churning the Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) for amrit (the nectar of immortality), this required them to make a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the demons or Asuras to work together, with a promise of sharing the nectar equally thereafter. However, when the Kumbha (urn) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights (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, the celestial bird, Garuda the vehicle of Vishnu flew away with the Kumbha of elixir, and that is when drops of amrita fell at four places on earth: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, and that is where the Kumbh Mela is observed every twelve years.

First written evidence of the Kumbha Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveller, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 – 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar, which lead to the rapid improvement of arrangement by the authorities and the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society, and in 1903 about 400,000 people attended the fair. During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Allahabad, around 500 people were killed, and scores were injured. Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on April 14, 1998

The 1998 Kumbh Mela saw over 10 million pilgrims visiting Hardwar, to take a dip in the holy river, Ganga. Around 1 million people from outside of India and from around the world participated in the ‘Maha Kumbh Mela’ at Prayag (Allahabad) in 2001, with planetary positions that repeat only once in 144 years The total gathering exceeded 60 millions.

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