Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela is a mass pilgrimage centered on the ritual of riverside bathing, it is variously called the the Great Indian Bathing Festival, the Urn Festival, the Pitcher Festival and so forth. It occurs four times every twelve years rotating between Allahabad/Prayaga at the confluence of the rivers Ganga (Ganges), Jamuna (Yamuna) and the concealed Saraswati, Haridwar (Hara Dwar) on the river Ganga (Ganges), Ujjain on the river Kshipra (Shipra), and Nasik on the river Godavari (Gomati)
Bathing in these rivers during the Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela is considered an endeavour of great merit, cleansing both body and spirit. The Allahabad and Haridwar (Hara Dwar) festivals are routinely attended by five million or more pilgrims; the Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela is the largest religious gathering in the world. It may also be the oldest
Two traditions are in circulation regarding the origin and timing of the festival: one that stems from ancient texts known as the Puranas, and the other that connects it with astrological considerations. According to the Puranic epic, the gods and demons had churned the milky ocean at the beginning of time in order to gather various divine treasures including a jar containing a potion of immortality - Ambrosia. As the jar emerged from the ocean the gods and demons began a terrific battle for its possession. During the battle, which according to one legend the gods won by trickery, four drops of the precious potion fell to earth, when Jayantha (Jayanth) the son of the chief deity Indra carried the jar (Kumbha/kumbh) that held the ambrosia in the form of a giant bird - these places became the sites of the four Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela festivals, according to another legend he ran away with the jar and hid them on twelve locations on earth where few drops of ambrosia fell, four of these places are known and identified as the four sites for the Kumbh (Kumbh) Mela, the other eight locations are being researched by our team
The astrological tradition (ascribed to a lost Puranic text and not traceable in extant editions) seems to stem from a very ancient festival called the Kumbha Parva, which occurred at Hardwar every twelfth year when Jupiter was in Aquarius (the Indian name being Kumbha/Kumbh) and the sun entered Aries
At some later time the term 'Kumbha (Kumbh)' was prefixed to the Melas held at Prayaga, Ujjain, and Nasik and these four sites became identified with the four mythical locations of the immortality potion - Ambrosia. In theory the Kumbha (Kumbh) Mela festivals are supposed to occur every three years, rotating between the four cities. In practice the four-city cycle may actually take eleven or thirteen years and this because of the difficulties and controversies in calculating the astrological conjunctions. Furthermore the interval between the Kumbha Mela at Nasik and that at Ujjain is not of three years; they are celebrated the same year or only a year apart. This deviation in practice is intriguing and cannot be fully explained by either astrological or mythological means.
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