Kumbh Mela (Devanagari: कुम्भ मेला) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage in which Hindus gather at the Ganges river.
The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Prayag, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, at four places (Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik). The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela which comes after 12 'Purna Kumbh Melas', or 144 years, is held at Allahabad.
The last Ardh Kumbh Mela was held over a period of 45 days beginning in January 2007, more than 70 million Hindu pilgrims took part in the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag, and on January 15, the most auspicious day of the festival of Makar Sankranti, more than 5 million participated.
The previous Maha Kumbh Mela, held in 2001, was attended by around 60 million people, making it at the time the largest gathering anywhere in the world in recorded history.Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different locations depending on the position of the planet of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter) and the sun. When Jupiter and the sun are in the zodiac sign Leo (Singh Rashi) it is held in Trimbakeshwar, Nashik; when the sun is in Aries (Mesha Rashi) it is celebrated at Haridwar; when Jupiter is in Taurus (Vrishabha Rashi ) and the sun is in Capricorn (Makar Rashi) Kumbha Mela is celebrated at Prayag; and Jupiter and the sun are in Scorpio (Vrishchik Rashi) the Mela is celebrated at Ujjain. Each site's celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Sun, Moon, and Jupiter.
The first written evidence of the Kumbha Mela can be found in the accounts of Chinese traveler, Huan Tsang or Xuanzang (602 - 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana. However, the observance dates back many centuries to ancient India's Vedic period, where the river festivals first started getting organised. In Hindu mythology, its origin is found in one of the popular creation myths, the Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana.
The account goes that the Gods had lost their strength, and to regain it, they thought of churning the Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) for amrita (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, Lord Vishnu flew away with the Kumbhaof elixir spilling drops of amrita at four places: Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.
The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town it is being held. Nasik has registered maximum visitors amounted nearly to 75 million. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardized. Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may not wear any clothes even in severe winter.