‘Kumbh’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘pot or pitcher’. ‘Mela’ in Hindi means ‘a fair’. Hence, the Kumbh Mela means festival of the pot. In Hindu mythology, there is a legend about how Kumbh Mela began to be celebrated in India.
About the time when Universe was created, the Indian Devas(Demigods) were cursed by a sage named Durvasa. They lost all their strength as an effect of the curse. Lord Vishnu (The preserver of the Universe according to the Hindu religion) suggested them to get a pot filled with nectar of power and immortality. Devas needed to churn the Amrit(the nectar of immortality) from the Ksheer Sagar(a divine ocean full of milk).
Now, this was an enormous task and Devas couldn’t do it alone. So, they asked Asuras(the demons) to help them with a promise of sharing the nectar equally thereafter. The demons agreed, and they all worked at it for thousands of years.
However, when finally the Kumbha(pot) containing the Amrit(nectar) appeared, gods did not want demons to drink the nectar as that would make them immortal. A fierce battle broke out between the gods and demons in the skies. During the battle, the celestial bird, Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu flew away with the Kumbh that held the nectar. Drops of holy nectar fell at four places on Earth – Prayag(now known as Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. To remember this divine event Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated in every twelve years at the four sacred places where the drops from Kumbh were fallen.
It is also fascinating to know that:
- It is believed that one day and night in heaven makes one human year. The fight between Gods and Demons went on for twelve days and twelve nights equal to twelve human years. That is why Kumbh mela is celebrated every twelve years.
- The main ritual in the mela is the holy dip in the river. It is believed that the river turns itself into spots filled with the holy nectar at the historic moment of the Maha Kumbh Mela.
- Kumbh Mela is the biggest religious gathering in the world. About 100 million people are expected to attend the 2013 Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.