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. It is the largest congregation of mankind for any one festival in the world.
The Kumbha Mela Festival
Kumbh Mela is today viewed as a bathing festival.
Is that all there is to this festival, which has attracted millions from world over across ages? What did this festival signify in days bygone?
Kumbh means pot, pitcher. The Kumbh festival is celebrated in connection with the creation of the Universe. Puranic legends of the Kumbh, talk of a pitcher with Amrita, nectar whose contents spilt and created the Universe.
In the legend of Samudra Manthan, the churning of the ocean, the pot of nectar, Amrit came out of the ocean, when the Devas, loosely translated as Gods and Asuras, loosely translated as demons, churned the ocean with a snake, Vasuki, as the rope. During this churning, along with the pot of nectar, all the good and bad were produced.
This popular legend in the Purana is seen in various forms of sculptures, paintings, not only in India but also in South East Asia in places such as Thailand and Cambodia.
A Samudra Manthan Scene Depiction, Swarnabhoomi Airport, Thailand
This legend is an allegorical representation of the process of creation.
The Vedic texts describe the process of creation as starting with a tug of war between 2 forces – an expanding force called Indra and a holding back force called Vrtra in the Hiranyagrabha, a golden hued womb akin to the cosmic egg concept of modern cosmology.
At one point Indra overcomes Vrtra and this causes the Hiranyagarbha to explode as a Brahmanda Visfotak, universal explosion or Big Bang and spew out the entire Universe.
The participants in the Samudra Manthan, churning, are also the Devas and Asuras. The head of Devas is Indra. Vrtra is a mighty Asura.
The Indra – Vrtra tug of war going on in the Hiranyagarbha is akin to the churning by the Devas and Asuras from which emerged the pot of nectar whose spillage gave rise to the Universe.
The platform for the Samudra Manthan is Vishnu as a tortoise. A tortoise brings to mind its behaviour to withdraw itself fully into its hard shell and stay unmoving. This picturization is similar to the Hiranyagarbha, a womb into which the previous cycle of Creation withdraws and stays as remnants to form the matter for the next cycle of Creation.
The act of churning of the ocean which produced all the good and the bad in the Universe, also is akin to the Panchikaranam process described in the Veda, through which the entire Universe was created.
These go to establish Kumbh festival as a festival to commemorate the Creation of the Universe and helps to place the event of the churning of the ocean as the Indra -Vrtra tug of war inside the Hiranyagarbha before it bursts open as the Big Bang and creates the Universe.
Indian thought and practices over time immemorial have commemorated certain days and festivals as ways and means for people to understand, remember and reunite with the Universe and the scientific divinities of the Universe. These festivals become gateways for people to reach out and be in communion with these divinities.
The Kumbh is the Gateway to understand the concept of Creation.
This understanding is what our ancient Rishis have given to us in many forms such as the ancient texts still available with us today, the form of art, the form of practices and such festivals too.
This understanding lends a stark profoundness to the celebration of Kumbh as opposed to regarding it as a bathing festival of the Hindus.
The Kumbh festival was instituted and popularized by the ancients as an occasion for congregating together to discuss Creation amidst other scientific and spiritual concepts along with issues faced by the society for that generation.
Kumbh is the time to celebrate and feel one with the science and spirit of Creation.