8.12.17 (VT) Kumbh Mela has now joined UNESCO’s list of “Intangible cultural heritage”. PM Modi has applauded the move saying that it is a well deserved recognition for this iconic festival.
The Kumbh Mela happens in a different place every 4 years, in a 12 year cycle: at the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar; the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges, Yamuna and the invisible Sarasvati at Allahabad; the Godavari at Nashik; and the Shipra at Ujjain. Bathing in these rivers is thought to cleanse a person of all sins.
A special Kumbh fair is held in Vrindavan, on the banks of the Yamuna every 12 years, whenever the main Kumbh is at Haridwar. There are several lilas relating the kumbh to Vrindavan. One popular belief about how the Kumbh came to Vrindavan is that, while flying with the pitcher of amrit (nectar) after the churning of the ocean, Garud Dev sat on the kadamba tree at Kalidah.
While the description of the festival in the UNESCO document “The festival of the sacred pitcher“, seems to fall somewhat short of capturing the festival’s magnificence, Mark Twain did a good job of describing it when, after visiting the Kumbh of 1895, he said,
“It is wonderful, the power of a faith, that can make multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.”
The kumbh mela is the largest religious gathering in the world. It has an amazing landslide effect, even on the cynical. Joseph Burns, who visited India as a tourist in 2007 said, “I had heard all about the pollution in the Ganges, so there was no way I was about to go swimming in it, but then I saw millions of people flocking towards their ‘Mother Ganga’, so, I joined them. I prayed to the holy river to give me shelter in this great land, and, I have never looked back.”
The Kumbh Mela is a great connector. Pilgrims from all over India, NRIs, devotees, and Hindus from every sect gather together to participate in this festival that seems to wash away all quibbling points. In answer to the age old debate about whether Yamuna or Ganga is more holy, at the time of the Vrindavan Kumbh, Ganga water is mixed with Yamuna water, creating a sangam (unity) of immense spiritual power.
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