Kumbh Mela – A Hindu pilgrimage: A gathering on the banks of one of four sacred rivers in India
(Pronounced koom may-lah)
The loud "kabooms!" made us laugh (Kumbh Mela) – it was a huge firework display by the river where the pilgrimage took place. There were four "kabooms", which reminded us that Kumbh Mela takes place in each of four locations over a cycle of twelve years.
Kumbh Mela is held on a rotational basis at four different places in India, four times over a cycle of twelve years.
The four locations are Haridwar on the Ganges River; Ujjain on the Shipra; Nashik on the Godavari; and Prayag (modern Prayagraj) at the confluence of the Ganges, the Jamuna and the mythical Sarasvati.
Each town becomes the site of the world's biggest peaceful congregation of pilgrims in turn – the time between events varies because each site’s celebration is based on a precise set of astrological positions of the sun, the moon and Jupiter.
Kumbh Mela’s origin is traced back to the 8th-century Hindu philosopher Shankara. He started regular gatherings of religious leaders for discussion and debate.
A popular myth tells how the gods and demons fought over a pot (kumbha) of amrita, the elixir of immortality. During the struggle, drops of the elixir fell on the Kumbh Mela’s four sites, and the rivers are believed to turn back into that primordial nectar at the climactic moment of each event, allowing pilgrims to bathe in the essence of purity, prosperity and immortality.
More than 200 million Hindus gathered in total for the Kumbh Mela in 2019, including 50 million on the festival's most crowded day.