Kumbh literally means nectar. The story behind the mela goes back to the time when the gods (devas) used to reside on earth. Sage Durmast’s curse had weakened them, and the asuras (demons) caused havoc in the world. The smell of burning joss sticks; echoes of sadhus and Babas chanting prayers; millions of people gathering to take a dip in the holy water; this is how Kumbh Melas look like. Unlike Maha Kumbh (once in 12 years), Ardh Kumbh is only held in only two places in India, one being Allahabad (Prayag) and the other Haridwar. In 2019, one has the chance to be the part of the Ardh Kumbh Mela that will be held in Allahabad, an important destination for Uttar Pradesh tourism seated on the bank of Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati confluence.
The dates of the Kumbh Mela are based on astrology, which dictates when the waters of the sacred rivers will turn into nectar. It is believed that this nectar can turn mortals into immortals, and legend says that drops of immortal nectar fell onto this spot at the Triveni Sangam during a mythological battle between gods and demons. This is the reason the Triveni Sangam is considered to be so holy, and the reason the Maha Kumbh Mela is held there. From a tourist perspective, the Kumbh Mela is an unforgettable — and daunting — experience! The sheer number of people there can be off-putting. However, dedicated arrangements are made, especially foreigners. Special tourist camps are set up, providing luxury tents with attached bathrooms, guides, and assistance for excursions. Tight security is also in place.
To see the biggest spectacle of sadhus, make sure you’re there for a Shahi Snan (Royal Bath), which happens on certain auspicious days. There are usually a handful of these days during each Kumbh Mela
One of the major events of Kumbh Mela is the Peshwai Procession, which marks the arrival of the members of an akhara or sect of sadhus at the Kumbh Mela. The order of entering the water for bathing is fixed, with the Juna, the Niranjani and Mahanirvani akharas preceding. The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town Kumbh Mela being held: Gangain Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik, Kshipra in Ujjain and Sangam. Other activities at the mela include religious discussions (pravachan), devotional singing (kirtan), mass feeding (mahaparasada) of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardised (shastrartha). The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with Vibhuti ashes dabbed on their skin as per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may not wear any clothes even in severe winter. People make the pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela specifically to observe and experience both the religious and secular aspects of the event. Two major groups that participate in the Kumbh Mela include the Sadhus (Hindu holy men) and pilgrims. Through their continual yogic practices the Sadhus articulate the transitory aspect of life. Sadhus travel to the Kumbh Mela to make themselves available to much of the Hindu public. This allows members of the Hindu public to interact with the Sadhus and to take “darshan.” They are able to “seek instruction or advice in their spiritual lives.”
Other than the dips and a large gathering, Allahabad Ardh Kumbh Mela 2019 is likely to have a lot for you to see and experience ranging from the sight of bare body Naga Sadhus smeared with ash to the royal bath to joyous evening aartis. So, if you’re coming to India to witness the Ardh Kumbh Mela, this blog can be the travel guide that can help you prepare your to-do list.