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The Simhastha Kumbh of Ujjain

A Once-in-12-years Bathing Fest

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Updated April 20, 2004
The Simhastha Kumbh at Ujjain in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is an event, which the devout Hindus wait for 12 years. The month-long congregation brings together millions of people from across India and abroad. Driven by faith and the quest for inner peace, they converge on this holy city to be a part of a unique bathing festival.

Braving the scorching sun of April-May the devotees enjoy the company of seers and saints, listen to religious discourses, witness the Ramlilas and Raslilas, visit the various “akharas”, watch the grand processions of “sadhus” and take holy dips in the Sipra river. They imbibe the spirit of the devotion-filled ambience where Lord Shiva is omnipresent. The sea of humanity gets harmonized into a single entity, overcoming all divisive thoughts. To them this is a lifetime experience.

The Kumbh Fair
In India four Kumbh Melas are held every twelve years in Prayag (Allahabad), Hardwar, Nashik and Ujjain. The Kumbh at Ujjain is called Simhastha when the Sun enters the Aries and the Jupiter is in the Leo. The Kumbh in Hardwar is held when the Sun is in the Aries and the Jupiter in the Aquarius. The Kumbh in Prayag occurs when the Sun is in the Capricorn and the Aries in the Taurus. The Simhastha at Ujjain has a special significance as a rare configuration of planets takes place in 12 years with the Sun in the Aries and the Jupiter in the Leo.

The Origin of Simhastha
There are stories about the Simhastha’s origin. The most popular one relates to the Samudra Manthan or churning of the ocean. The story goes that the gods and demons churned the ocean and found an Amrit Kund, an urn containing nectar. To ensure that the urn did not fall in the hands of the demons, the gods handed it over to Brihaspati, the Moon God, the Sun God and the Saturn. When Jayant, the son of Indra, ran away holding the urn in his hands, the demons chased him. A fierce battle ensued and it lasted twelve days. One day in the lives of the gods equals one year of the humans, says the myth. In that way the battle lasted twelve years. In the struggle to possess the urn, some drops of the nectar fell on four points in India – Hardwar, Prayag, Nashik and Ujjain. Mythology has it that these drops developed into four sacred rivers – the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Godavari and the Sipra. The Kumbh Melas at these four places originated as per the specific configuration of the planets.

Bath Calendar
The Ujjain Simhastha began with the first "shahi snan" (royal bath) on April 5, 2004, Chaitra Shukla Purnima, Monday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. It will end with the third shahi snan on May 4 corresponding to Vaishakh Shukla Purnima, Thursday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. In between, there would be the second shahi snan on April 22, 2004, Vaishakh Shukla Tritiya, Thursday, Vikrami Samvat 2061. Besides, the two parva snans would be on April 19, 2004, Vaishakh Krishna Amavasya, Monday, Vikrami Samvat 2061 and on April 24, 2004, Vaishakh Shukla Panchami, Saturday, Vikrami Samvat 2061.

The Holy Dip in Sipra
The significance of a bath in the Sipra can be gauged from a verse in the Skanda Purana. According to it “The holy bath of the Kumbh equals in piety to thousands of Kartik snans, hundred Magh snans and crores of Narmada snans during the month of Vaishakh. The fruits of Kumbh snan are equal to the fruits of thousands of Ashvamedh Yajna and lakhs of journeys around the earth”. Elaborate arrangements have been made for the convenience of pilgrims.

The History & Geography of Ujjain
Ujjain, the city of Mahakal, previously known as Avanti, Kushsthali, Kanashringa, Bhaumvati, Padmavati, Pratikalpa, Amaravati, Vishala, Avantika and Ujjayani is considered to be among the holiest cities in India. The only south-facing idol of Mahakaleshwar, regarded as the God of all the deities and demons alike, is situated at Ujjain. The Adi Purana describes Ujjain as the most sacred city on the earth. The city has been a seat of learning where all disciplines of knowledge have flourished since time immemorial.

Situated along the banks of the Sipra, the city has been eulogized by great poets like Vedavyasa and Kalidasa. Vikramaditya, the legendary emperor, ruled the city with his famous Navratnas (nine jewels) including Kalidasa, Shanku, Dhanvantari, Betalbhatta, Varruchi, Varahmihir, Kshapdak, Ghatkarpar and Amar Singh who epitomised different branches of knowledge.

Ujjain is located on the Tropic of Cancer, the prime meridian of India. The Vikram Samvatsar originated in this ancient city. According to Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, “there is something very striking about the consistency of Ujjain’s dominance in Indian time accounting.” The city was an important centre of astronomy in the Gupta period. Varahmihir, the renowned astronomer, had worked in Ujjain. In the 18th century, Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur constructed the famous observatory at Ujjain to encourage astronomical studies and to popularize astronomy amongst the people.

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