The Kumbh Mela which means the ‘Pot Fair’ is celebrated when the planet Jupiter enters the zodiac constellation Aquarius and the Sun enters the constellation Aries. According to the popular belief, on this day the passage from Earth to heaven opens up. The Kumbh Mela happens to be the world’s biggest religious gathering. This mass Hindu pilgrimage is celebrated only four times in twelve years at each of these four locations viz. Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Kumbh Mela begins from Prayag (Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh) where the holy rivers of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati merge together. From here this sacred fair shifts grounds to Haridwar which is located by the Ganges. From here, the festive spirit flows into Ujjain located along the Kshipra River, before finally heading to Nashik which sits by the sacred Godavari River.
The great or Maha Kumbh Mela is the one which is held in Prayag i.e. Allahabad and is attended by millions of devotees and tourists from the world over. The observance of this holy fair dates back to the ancient Vedic period of India. The Hindu mythological tales have traced the beginning of this popular river festival from the ‘Samudra Manthan’ or the ‘Churning of Primordial Milk Ocean (Ksheera Sagara)’ episode which finds vivid mention in the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana and the religious books like Shrimad Bhagavatam and Vishnu Purana. According to the legend, when the Gods had lost their powers they wanted to regain it by drinking ‘amrit’ or the ‘potion of immortality’ which could be gained by churning the ‘Ksheera Sagara’. But doing this wasn’t easy as they had to fight the demons for the ‘amrit’ for twelve days and twelve nights (which is equivalent to 12 human years). In the meantime Garuda, Vishnu’s chariot flew away with the elixir, drops of which fell on Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik, where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated now.
Devotees during this sacred fair, take ritual bath by dipping in these holy rivers flowing through each of the four cities. Devotional songs are sung and men, women, children and poor people are offered food. It is believed that a holy dip in these four sacred rivers relieves one from his/her sins. The Ardh Kumbh Mela is observed every six years at Allahabad and Haridwar. The annual Magha Mela is held in Allahabad. Even the Maha Kumbh Mela or the Great Kumbh Mela which repeats itself after every 12 years of ‘Purna Kumbh Melas' is held in Allahabad.
The Kumbha Mela is attended by thousands of saints and sages called sadhus and sanyasis in India. While some of these religious men and women can be spotted in saffron clothing and ash dabbed faces, there are some religious men who are Digambars (sky clad) or sans clothing called nanga sanyasis. Non-vegetarian food is not allowed inside the fair grounds and almost all the locations of Kumbh Mela are declared vegetarian cities. For tourists who wish to take a holy dip in the sacred Ganges, they can do so without any second thoughts. This is because the river is enriched with amazing cleansing properties with anti-bacterial effects which have been scientifically proven. The Indian government in collaboration with the state government has spent some hundred million dollars on medical aids and security infrastructure during the fair days.