Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kumbh Mela--the world's most massive act of faith

Arial shot of Kumbh Mela camp
Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu Pilgrimage made by devotees, sadhus and monks, to bathe in sacred rivers believed to free one's self from past sins and thus be eligible for liberation from the cycle of life and death. It is held every third year at each of these four places: the Ganga at Haridwar, the Godawari at Nasik, the Shipra at Ujjain and the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati (Triveni Sangam) at Prayag, Allahabad. These four places hold a special place in Hindu scripture.

Hindu Mythology tells the tale of the 'Churning of the Ocean of Milk.' The Devas (gods,)  always under siege from their brothers, the Asuras (demons,) desired immortality. They sought advice from Lord Vishnu who told them Amirt, the nectar of immortality, could only be produced by Churning the Ocean of Milk. The Gods realizing they didn't have enough power to complete this task alone, made a truce with the Demons to work together proposing an equal split of the nectar upon completion. Vishnu, aware of the agreement, assured the Gods he would see to it they alone would receive the nectar.

As the story goes, the Mondara Mountain was used as the churning rod, the Serpent King Vasuki as the rope and Kurma, a giant Turtle, as the support beneath the mountain.  Demigods and demons pulled back and forth on the snake causing the mountain to rotate and churn the ocean. This went on for a century during which time many things were produced: poison from the serpent's mouth (which Shiva himself drank to save the universe) goddess Lakshmi, Kamadhenu the wish-granting cow, jewels and many other treasures. And finally, the Amrit Kumbh, the pot of the nectar of immortality.

Immediately, fierce fighting began. In an attempt to protect the nectar from the demons, Garunda, the King of Birds, took the pot and flew away from the battle scene.  Legend has it during  Garunda's flee, lasting 12 days-equivalent to 12 years on Earth, four drops of nectar spilled to earth;  at Haridwar, Godwari, Ujjain and Allahabad...hence the four centers of pilgrimage for the Kumbh Mela.

The Maha Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years in Allahabad, is considered the holiest and most auspicious of the four locations. Not only is it believed that Brahma, after creating the world, offered his first sacrifice here, but it holds a significant position in Hindu scriptures for possessing  the Triveni Sangam; the meeting of the three holy rivers where one of the drops fell.

This year, between January 27-February 25th, over 80 million people will travel from over the world, from all walks of life, to take part in religious discussions, devotional singing and bathe in this most auspicious place. Several of us, friends and family of the Bal Ashram, were blessed to take part in this spiritual where people come together irrespective of caste, color, creed, or religion. It was an experience of a lifetime.
Joyti and myself dipping in the Sangam

 “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon mulittudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining.  It is done in love, or it is done in fear;  I do not know which it is.  No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people…”
Mark Twain 1895

To view more amazing pictures, please click the link below

Maha (Great) Kumbh Mela 2013
(Slide show photos courtesy of Maria R.)

Bal Ashram


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