This year 2013 will see the Kumbha Mela being held at Prayag. The word “Prayag” means “confluence”, a special confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi Rivers.
The Kumbha Mela is one of the oldest and largest congregations of Indian civilization. In a sense, it is a congregation more than a festival.
The Kumbh festival was instituted and popularized by the ancients as an occasion for congregating together to discuss Creation amidst other scientific concepts.
The purpose of the Kumbha Mela was for the people and the Sanyasis, to confluence at a confluence of water bodies, stay for period of three months and discuss in that period various aspects of Sanatana Dharma, its interpretations, its relevance for their present times, the problems that were faced by the society of that generation and the solutions for them within Dharma.
The Snanas that are interspersed on astronomically significant days are only the ritual highlights. The primary purpose of the Kumbh festival, has been the interaction between the people and the sadhus, to discuss issues of the society.
Through these festivals our ancients have shown us the path to experiencing knowledge and putting it to proper use.
There are three types of Kumbha Mela:
Ardha Kumbha Mela, celebrated once in every six years at Haridwar and Prayag
Purna Kumbha Mela, which takes place every twelve years at four places Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik.
Maha(Great) Kumbha Mela which comes after twelve Purna Kumbha Melas or 144 years and is celebrated in Prayag only.
The Kumbha Mela Festival
You may wonder, why a period of 12 years for a Kumbh festival?
It is common practice today to fix meetings in our calendar. Our calendar today runs for a year and is based on the earth’s revolution around the sun which takes a year.
For such large congregations, a year was too short a time span to seek, learn, assimilate, impart and apply knowledge. They therefore needed a slightly longer calendar, one that would be predictable, easy to follow and also bear relevance to their knowledge mission.
Looking to the sky, the other object that can be tracked in the sky easily is Jupiter.
Jupiter is called Guru or Brhaspathi in Samskrt – Brhaspathi from the root Brh meaning biggest or one that is large in size. Guru denotes weighty, heavy and thereby the power to attract and retain in hold – the reason why a knowledge master who attracts and guides people to stay on a path of wisdom is called a Guru. It is the same reason why gravity in Samskrt is called Gurutvakarshana which appears to have been the root for the English word “gravity” itself too.
Thus Guru, Jupiter has been associated with knowledge.
If we look at Jupiter, it has a very predictable 12 year cycle. It is easy to follow in the skies. It also overlaps beautifully with the solar cycle of 1 year and the 12 zodiacs in the zodiac belt since it takes 1 year to move from one zodiac to another. i.e it stays in each zodiac for a year, the time during which the sun in the sky can be seen traversing across all the 12 zodiacs.
So, between Jupiter and the sun, they act like the short hand and long hand of a clock respectively, except that the sky is the dial and the 12 zodiacs are the 12 divisions on the dial.
Therefore Jupiter and sun became convenient tools as a calendar to set meetings. The association of Jupiter, Guru with knowledge also made it very apt for setting the calendar for congregations of knowledge such as the Kumbh.
Thus we have the various Kumbh held at the following configurations of Jupiter and Sun.
The cycle of Purna Kumbh Mela starts with Jupiter in Taurus and Sun in Capricorn – Prayag. This will repeat when Jupiter comes back to Taurus once every 12 years.
When Jupiter moves to Leo and Sun also moves to Leo – Nasik. This will repeat when Jupiter comes back to Leo once every 12 years.
When Jupiter continues to stay in Leo for the year and the Sun move into Aries – Ujjain. This will repeat when Jupiter comes back to Leo once every 12 years.
Next is when Jupiter moves into Aquarius and Sun moves to Aries – Haridwar. This will repeat when Jupiter comes back to Aquarius once every 12 years.
Is it just a coincidence that the zodiac which is called Kumbh or the pot of nectar, in Indian Astronomy is also called the Pitcher bearer or Aquarius in Greek Astronomy or had this story of Creation travelled as far as Greece from India in olden days?
The Kumbh, Pitcher
Besides these 12 year cycles, Prayag and Haridwar also host Ardhkumbh every 6 years much like our preliminary meetings before the final conference. Nasik and Ujjain do not celebrate Ardkumbh since the Purna Kumbh in Ujjain follows Nasik within a year and the halfway mark, 6 years of the Nasik – Ujjain Kumbh would come close to the Purna Kumbh in Haridwar.
Every 12th entry of Jupiter into Taurus, i.e. once every 144 years, the Purna Kumbh at Prayag is called Maha Kumbh. The year 2013 happens to be one such Maha Kumbh at Prayag after 144 years.
It is even more fascinating when we see that our ancients had chosen entry of Jupiter into Taurus as the start for the cycle since the constellation Krittika in Taurus is one that marks the true east or cardinal east direction in the skies.
Thus we see that a Kumbha Mela,
is a confluence of people,
at the confluence of water bodies on earth,
when there is a confluence in the sky,
for the people to bring about a confluence in their thoughts.