Most Hindu occasions have their source in ancient
Hindu scriptures and popular legends. The Kumbh Mela is no different.
The history of this ancient religious event can be traced to the great
conflict between the gods and the demons over the possession of the "Amrit
Kumbh", the urn of nectar, an event mentioned in the Hindu Vedas
(ancient scriptural texts). Read about the fascinating history of Kumbh
Mela. If you like this article, do not forget to
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The exact origin of the Kumbh Mela is very hard to pinpoint. The fair is a primitive one and the reason it is held can be traced back to the ancient episode of 'Sagar Manthan' or 'Churning of the Ocean' that is described in the ancient Vedic text of "Çrémad-Bhägavatam".
It is not exactly known since when did people begin to hold Kumbh Mela at the four places of its celebration. It is widely known how this spectacle of faith has attracted the curiosity of foreign travelers from time to time. The famous seventh century Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang was probably the first person to mention Kumbh Mela in his diary. Hiuen-Tsang gave an eyewitness account of Kumbh Mela reporting how during the Hindu month of Magha (January-February) half a million people had assembled on the banks of the River Ganges at Allahabad to observe a celebration for 75 days. He also wrote that the pilgrims to the fair assembled along with their king, his ministers, scholars, philosophers and sages. The king had donated huge amounts of gold, silver, and jewels in charity to acquire good merit and assure his place in heaven. This indicates that Kumbh Mela was already quite popular in the seventh century.
In the eight century, the great Indian saint Shankara popularized the Kumbh Mela among the common people. As a natural consequence, with each passing year the fair began to be attended by more and more people. The holy ritual of taking a bath in the holy river waters is a must for all devotees. The sacred Hindu scriptures stress on having the guidance of a spiritual leader who has acquired the knowledge of the self. Only such a realized person can impart one the true knowledge and show him/her the path towards spiritual fulfillment. The great Shankara placed special importance to the opportunity of associating with saintly persons while at Kumbh Mela. Hence, both hearing from sadhus (holy men) and sacred bathing are still the two main purpose of the pilgrims thronging Kumbh Mela.
By 1977, the number of pilgrims attending Kumbh Mela had grown to a record 15 million! By 1989, the attendance was approximately 29 million - nearly double that of the previous record. Today, around 60 million people is said to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
Every year the Indian government spends a large sum on preliminary organization for the Kumbh Mela. Adequate arrangements are made to provide for pure drinking water, food, transportation, electrical facilities; sanitation; security measures and medical assistance. Despite such arrangements, casualties of human lives occur frequently. But this hardly deters the spirit of the pilgrims to the fair whose number goes on increasing with each passing year.
Words can hardly describe the phenomenon that the Kumbh Mela is. It is one event that has to be experienced personally.