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The Kumbh & Ardhkumbh

Great Indian Bathing Festivals


India is a land of festivals. From Kashmir to Kanya Kumari, our country has innumerable festivals to integrate the people by and large. Down the ages, festivals have been a binding force in society. Festivals have inspired not only togetherness but also expression of Indian art, literature, music, architecture, sculpture and culture over the centuries. Our forefathers, thinkers and eminent sociologists had realized their worth in order to promote emotional unity among Indians. Hence centers of pilgrimage were set up all over the country to amalgamate religious sentiments with travel as its integral part.

The abodes of God are generally located in distant mountains, thick forests, on the banks of rivers and other such places of solitude and pristine beauty.

The Kumbh cities were founded in different directions to enable the pilgrims know their country in the process of their pursuits of divinity.

The tradition of collective worship of the Almighty gave rise to massive fairs like the Kumbh and Ardhkumbh ("Kumbh" means Pitcher and "Ardh Kumbh" means "Half Pitcher"). Millions of people from around the world congregate at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical third river caled Saraswati in Allahabad (aka Prayag) in northern India to bathe in the icy waters of the holy rivers during these festivals, said to be one of the largest gatherings on earth.

These occasions bring together Indians from far and wide. Our ancestors must have felt the need of interactions among thinkers, leaders, prominent people and the commoners. Probably this might have led to the tradition of congregations like the Kumbh at a given place and time even when there were very little means of communication and transport. The myths and tales associated with the Kumbh have come down to us from generation to generation along with the knowledge of the special planetary associations under which they are held.

Kumbh, Poorna Kumbh or Maha Kumbh are the titles given to the fairs held every twelve years at Haridwar (Uttaranchal), Prayag (Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) and Nashik (Maharashtra). The planetary positions of the Sun, the Moon and the Jupiter decide the place where Kumbh would be held.

- When the Sun sojourns in the constellation Aries and Jupiter in Aquarius, Kumbh is held at Haridwar.

- When the Sun passes through Capricorn and the Jupiter through Taurus, Kumbh is held at Prayag.

- Kumbh is held at Ujjain when the Sun and the Moon traverse through Aries when Jupiter is in Leo, the Kumbh is held at Nashik.

The fairs at Nashik and Ujjain are called Simhastha Kumbh as Jupiter is located in the constellation Simha (Leo). The Kumbh at Prayag is Vrishastha (Jupiter in Taurus) and the fair at Haridwar is Kumbhastha (Jupiter in Aquarius).

Besides the Kumbh there are half- way congregations at these cities. These are called the Ardhakumbh. Unlike the Kumbh, during the Ardhakumbh, the sadhus move to Ujjain with their Akharas. The Simhastha Kumbhs at Nashik and Ujjain generally fall at a year’s interval. At both these places the sadhus and the commoners get together, making these fairs a meeting ground of those who have renounced the world. But the Ardhakumbh at Haridwar is the fair of the grihasthas (householders) only. It is held every six years.

The story goes that in the seventh century king Harshavardhana, then ruling India, religiously used to give up all his possessions every six years at Prayag. This apparently gave an impetus to the popularity of the Ardhakumbh.

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