The Kumbh Mela

A ‘Mela’ is a religious pilgrimage or a fair which uplifts man’s spiritual aspirations. Religious melas are mentioned in the Mahabharat. Then again, Chaucer mentions them in his Canterbury Tales delineating various human temperaments on one such pilgrimage.

The Kumbh Mela is an ancient Indian tradition and antiquity has imparted to it its inspiration. Even the Chinese traveller, Hieuen Tsiang who visited India over a thousand years ago, left an account of the huge Maha-Kumbh held in 644 AD, in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. The city’s name has been recently changed to ‘Prayag Raj’ by the Government of India.

This Mela is held every third year, successively, in Hardwar, Prayag Raj, Nashik and Ujjain, returning to Hardwar to complete a twelve-year cycle. Each city also holds Ardh (half) Kumbha in the sixth year after it’s Kumbha celebrations. Thus, Kumbh and Ardhkumbh are held in different cities every three years.

Hieuen Tsiang tells us that Harsha, the great king of Northern India, distributed his entire wealth, accumulated over five years in his royal treasury to every monk, sadhu and pilgrim at the Kumbh Mela. After the mela, Hieuen Tsiang departed for China, refusing Harsh’s parting gifts of gold and precious jewels, but he asked for something of far greater value viz. 657 religious manuscripts, and carried these away with him to China.

Hieuen Tsiang wrote about Kumbha, mentioning throngs of Sadhus and ash-smeared ascetics carrying begging-bowls and elbow rest-stands. He mentioned beggars, magicians (probably Sadhus who have attained Siddhis) and evolved souls who can appear and disappear at will (probably hrishis, munis and siddha-purushas who know various occult laws – which Jesus also knew as he rose from the tomb). Later, he wrote about the rich princes and nawabs he met during his trips and how generously they gave to one and all.

Today’s Kumbhs are very different – times have changed and so has humanity. Today, we find very few evolved souls and savants at such congregations; instead there are innumerable hypocrites dressed in symbols of renunciation, like orange (Bhagva) robes, matted-locks, ash-smeared bodies, taking intoxicants like LSD and cannabis, without a corresponding inner grace! Today’s Kumbhs have so much commotion that evolved souls hesitate to mingle their ‘auras’ amongst such crowds.

Besides, evolved souls are self-sufficient – happy, unattached to materialism, free of all desires of clothing or food, eating cooked-food on alternate days, never carrying a begging bowl, free of all transportation-worries as they don’t ride in vehicles but continuously walk on river banks of rivers, not remaining in one place longer than a week to avoid any attachment. How many swamijis of this calibre can you find today at the Kumbh?

You find references to the Kumbh Mela in Sanskrit literature, sometimes written in rhymed verses which are most intimidating with their cryptic comments on the philosophy of Advaita. Amazing as it may sound, hidden in these verses lies great knowledge. Though written in another era, age and civilization, they hold as much relevance today as they did when first expressed. In fact, even more so after their initial utterance, revealing great secrets – the nature of the soul (Atma), and the spirit that sustains and knits us all in one seamless whole (Parmatma).

Today, we live in the materialistic world, where the tyranny is complete with the assault of technology on man’s senses. Desires are no longer inborn, they are created. Worse, they are never satiated, with each fulfilment beginning a new cycle of wants. Caught up in this ever-expanding current, man is tossed from need to need by jealously and greed. The congregation at a Kumbh Mela reminds us that all life is an illusion, meant merely to captivate our five senses. The truth does not lie here. Only divinity in all your actions will help you make that long trip back home after death!

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