KUMBHA MELA, (Hindi KUMBH MELA,) is greatest of the Hindu pilgrimage festivals. It is a riverside religious fair held four times every 12 years, rotating between Haridwar on the Ganges River, Ujjain on the Sipra, Nasik on the Godavari, and Allahabad, which lies at the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati. Bathing in these rivers during the Kumbh Mela is seen as an act of great merit, cleansing body and soul, and it attracts millions.
The Chinese Buddhist traveller Hsüan-tsang recorded a visit to the Allahabad Kumbh Mela in the 7th century in the company of the emperor Harsa, who distributed alms on the occasion. In the 8th century the philosopher Sankara established four monasteries, in the north, south, east, and west of India, and exhorted the sadhus (holy men) to meet at the Kumbh Mela for an exchange of views. The informal assembly of ascetics and yogis that took place at the melas (festivals) served as a kind of "parliament of Hinduism" for the discussion of religious doctrine and possible reform and has remained a major attraction for the pilgrim. Sadhus who stay naked the year round, ascetics who practice the most severe physical disciplines, hermits who leave their isolation for these pilgrimages only, teachers who use modern microphones and public-address systems to talk to the crowds, frauds, and true saints -- of all sects and from all parts of India -- gather in camps along the riverbank and are visited by the pilgrims.
The explanation given in the Puranas for the Kumbh Mela is that the gods and the demons fought over the pot (kumbha) of amrit (amrta), the elixir that rose up from their joint churning of the milky ocean. During the battle, drops of the elixir fell on four earthly sites, these being the four sites of the mela. The fair's aspect as a fertility festival is evident in a tradition, said to have been carried out in former days, of dipping pots of grain in the river during this highly auspicious period. The consecrated grain was later sowed with other grain to ensure a good harvest.
a) Prayag (Allahabad): Prayagraj is considered as one of the oldest places of pilgrimage (Tirthas). It is one among the ‘Tristhli.’ It is presently known as Allahabad, which is located 135 Km west of Varanasi, at the confluence of India’s most important rivers- the Ganga and the Yamuna and the underground Saraswati. This meeting point of the rivers, the ‘Sangam’, is believed to have great soul-cleansing powers and is an important pilgrimage site.
Allahabad stands on the site of ancient Prayag, a holy city that was comparable in fame to Varanasi (Benares) and Haridwar. Prayag's importance in the ancient Buddhist period of Indian history is attested to by the inscriptions on the Pillar of Asoka. The pillar still stands inside the gateway to the old Allahabad fort (which is situated strategically at the confluence of the two rivers). The site's religious importance persists; each year a festival takes place at the rivers' confluence, and every 12th year a much larger festival, Kumbh Mela, is attended by millions of Hindus.The present city of Allahabad was founded in 1583 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, who named it al-Ilahabad ("City of God"). It became a provincial capital in the Mughal Empire, and from 1599 to 1604 it was the headquarters of the rebellious prince Salim (later the emperor Jahangir). Outside Allahabad fort is the tomb built for Jahangir's rebellious son, Khusru. With the Mughal decline, Allahabad changed hands many times before being ceded to the British in 1801. The city was the scene of a great massacre during the 1857 Indian Mutiny against British rule. From 1904 to 1949 the city was the capital of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). It was a centre of the Indian independence movement and was the home of the Nehru family, whose estate is now a museum.
The ‘Prakrista yajna’ was performed here by Lord Brahma. That is how it received its ancient name as Prayag. It is also called as Tiratha-Raja (king of all holy places).
The Sangam (confluence of three rivers) is considered to be the most important holy bathing place in India. The most auspicious time to bathe in the sangam is during Kumbh-mela, which is held after every twelve years. It draws about 15 million people and is the largest attended event in the world. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang described visiting the city in 634 A.D., and it acquired its present name (Allahabad) in 1584 under Akbar.
b) Haridwar: One of the four places of Kumbha-Mela as well as one of the Saptapuris.
Haridwar is on the west bank of the Ganga at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains. Haridwar means the gateway to Hari (Lord Vishnu). It is also called Ganga-dwara, because the holy Ganga enters the plains here. It is also called Mayapuri Kshetra in the Puranas. Haridwar lies along the Ganges River, at the boundary between the Indo-Gangetic Plain (south) and the Himalayan foothills (north). It is the site of the headworks of the Ganges Canal system.
Haridwar is one of the seven sacred cities of the Hindus and a major pilgrimage centre. It has been known by many names; originally it was called Kapila, for the sage who once lived there. Its present name means "door to Hari," one of the names of Vishnu, a principal deity of Hinduism.Haridwar's chief object of pilgrimage is the bathing ghat, or steps, along the river called Har-ki-pauri, which has what believers consider to be a footprint of Vishnu impressed into a stone. Large numbers of pilgrims gather there annually at the beginning of the Hindu solar year in April; a Kumbh Mela is held every 12th year. The Daksheshwar (Siva) temple, another important pilgrimage site, lies 2 miles (3 km) downstream at Kankhal.
It is one of the four places where Kumbha mela is held every 12 years. The places famous in Haridwar are Har ki Pauri (Brahma Kund), Mansa Devi temple, Bhimgoda Kund, Kushavarta ghat, Gaurikund, Kankhal, Daksha Mandir, etc. Hardwar is one of the seven holy cities in India. It is an important pilgrimage town due to its propitious location. Thousands of people come to bathe at Brahm Kund on different auspicious occasions.
c) Nasik: Nasik is a holy city about 187 km. from Mumbai. It is on the banks of Godavari River, one of the holiest rivers of the Deccan. Nasik town, northwestern Maharashtra state, western India, it lies along the Godavari River and is situated along major road and rail routes at a point about 110 miles (180 km) northeast of Bombay. Nasik is an important religious centre and attracts thousands of pilgrims annually because of the sanctity of the Godavari River and because Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana epic, lived there for a time with his consort Sita and his brother Laksmana. The main part of the town lies on the right (south) bank of the river, while Panchavati, a quarter on the left bank, has several temples. The town's riverbanks are lined with ghats (stepped bathing places). Nasik is the site of the Pandu (Buddhist) and Chamar (Jaina) cave temples dating to the 1st century AD. Of its many Hindu temples, Kala Ram and Gora Ram are among the holiest. Tryambakesvar, a village and the site of a Saivite Jyotirlinga temple 14 miles (22 km) from Nasik, is the most important of the pilgrim sites. In the second half of the 20th century the town has become industrialized; silk and cotton weaving and sugar and oil processing are important. Ozar is a new suburban township. Nasik has several colleges affiliated with the University of Poona.The area in which Nasik is situated is drained by the Girna and Godavari rivers, which flow through open, fertile valleys.
Lakshman the younger brother of Lord Ram cut off the nose of Sarupnakha, the younger sister of Ravana, here. That is why this place has the name Nasik. Kumbha-mela takes place here every 12 years. This place was known as Padmanagar in Satya-yuga, Trikantaka in Treta-yuga, Janasthana in Dwapara-yuga and Nasik in the present age -- Kali-yuga.
d) Ujjain: One of the Saptapuris, a place of Kumbha Mela and a place of Jyotirlinga.
Ujjain is situated on the bank of the Shipra River, which is one of the western most tributaries of Ganga. It is said that Lord Shiva killed the demon Tripura at Ujjain. Ujjain is the place where Sandipani Muni instructed Lord Krishna and Balarama. It was called Avantipuri when Lord Krishna studied here. Gopal Mandir is a famous Krishna temple with a silver deity. This temple was constructed by Maharaja Adult Rao Scindia’s queen in the 19th centruy. The Kumbh Mela in Ujjain is held in Chaitra (March-April). About 3 million people come for bathing.
It is located just east of the Shipra River. Ujjain, one of seven sacred Hindu cities, is the site of the Kumbh Mela festival every 12 years.Lying on the first meridian of the ancient Hindu geographers, it was the capital (as Ujjayini) of the Aryan Avanti kingdom (6th-4th century BC). In the 2nd century BC, Ujjain was the seat of the emperor Asoka, the last of the Mauryan rulers and one of the most influential early Buddhists. The city was known to the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD as Ozene, the capital of the Western Satraps; i.e., the Greek, Scythian, and Parthian rulers of western India. An important trade centre in ancient times, it passed in 400 to Candra Gupta II of Magadha. In 1235 Iltutmish of Delhi sacked Ujjain, and it remained in Muslim hands until its capture in 1750 by the Sindhias, who made it their capital. With the transfer of the capital to Lashkar in Gwalior (1810) and the rise of Indore, Ujjain declined in importance. It was constituted a municipality in 1887. Near the Sindhia palace is the Mahakala (Siva) temple, one of the most sacred in India, which was destroyed in 1235 but subsequently restored. Just southeast is the observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, governor of Malwa (1728-34) under the Mughals. Just north lies Bharathari Cave, an 11th-century temple.A rail junction, the city is a major agricultural and textile-trade centre. Mahakaleshwar temple is a famous temple of Ujjain which contains one of the 12 shiva Jyotirlingas. It attracts thousand of pilgrims and is by far the most visited temple in Ujjan.