Kumbh Mela

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Kumbh mela
Third Shahi Snan in Hari Ki Pauri.jpg
Haridwar Pilgrims gather at the third Shahi Snanam in Har ki Pauri to take the royal bath in Ganga River, 2010.
Official name Kumbh Mela, Kumbha Mela, Maha Kumbh Mela, Kumbha Melam
Observed by all Hindus
Type Religious
Observances Shahi Snanam (bathing for purification from sin)
Begins Makar Sankranti, 14 January
Ends Maha Shivaratri
Date main pilgrimage: every three years (2010/2013/2016/..); other: see chart
2014 date -
2015 date 29 Aug – 18 Sep[1]
2016 date 22 April – 21 May 2016
Nashik Pilgrims gather for the Shahi Snan (royal bath) in Ramkund in Dakshin Ganga River, 1991.

Kumbh Mela or Kumbha Mela (/ˌkʊm ˈmlə/ or /ˌkʊm məˈlɑː/) is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river.

The festival is considered to be one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the world, and as the "world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims".[3] There is no precise method of ascertaining the number of pilgrims, and the estimates of the number of pilgrims bathing on the most auspicious day may vary. An estimated 120 million people visited Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 in Allahabad over a two-month period,[4][5] including over 30 million on a single day, on 10 February 2013 (the day of Mauni Amavasya).[6]<[7]

The Kumbh Mela is held periodically at one of the four places by rotation: Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayaga), Nashik (Trimbak) and Ujjain. The main festival site is located on the banks of a river: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar; the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Sarasvati at Allahabad; the Godavari at Nashik; and the Shipra at Ujjain. Bathing in these rivers is thought to cleanse a person of all sins.[8]

At any given place, the Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. Generally, there is a difference of around 3 years between two Kumbh Melas at different places, except in case of Nashik and Ujjain, where the festival is celebrated in the same year or one year apart. The exact date is determined according to a combination of zodiac positions of the Jupiter, the Sun and the Moon. At Nashik and Ujjain, the Mela may be held while a planet is in Leo (Simha in Hindu astrology); in this case, it is also known as Simhastha. At Haridwar and Allahabad, an Ardha ("Half") Kumbh Mela is held every sixth year; a Maha ("Great") Kumbh Mela occurs after 144 years.

The exact age of the festival is uncertain. According to medieval Hindu theology, Lord Vishnu dropped drops of Amrita (the drink of immortality) at four places, while transporting in a kumbha (pot). These four places are identified as the present-day sites of the Kumbh Mela. The name "Kumbh Mela" literally means "Kumbha (pot) festival". It is known as "Kumbh" in Hindi (due to schwa deletion); in Sanskrit and some other Indian languages, it is more often known by its original name "Kumbha".[9]

Mythological origin[edit]

According to medieval Hindu theology, the origin of the festival is found in one of the most popular medieval puranas, the Bhagavata Purana. The Samudra manthan episode (Churning of the ocean of milk), is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana.[10] The traditional account says that the Devas had lost their strength by the curse of Durvasa Muni, and to regain it, they approached Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. They directed all the demigods to Lord Vishnu and after praying to Lord Vishnu, he instructed them to churn the ocean of milk Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) to receive amrita (the nectar of immortality). They had to make a temporary agreement with their arch enemies, the Asuras, to work together with a promise of sharing the wealth equally thereafter.[11] However, when the Kumbha (urn) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years), the Devas and Asuras fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. It is believed that during the battle, Lord Vishnu (incarnated as Mohini-Mürti) flew away with the Kumbha of elixir, spilling drops of amrita at four places: Allahabad (Prayag), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik.[12]


There are several references to river-side festivals in ancient Indian texts, but the exact age of the Kumbh Mela is uncertain. The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) mentions that Emperor Shiladitya (identified with Harshvardhan) distributed his wealth among the public once every five years; his treasury was then replenished by his vassals. He describes such a ritual at a site located at the confluence of two rivers, in the kingdom of Po-lo-ye-kia (identified with Prayaga). He also mentions that many hundreds take a bath at the confluence of two rivers, to wash away their sins.[13] According to some scholars, this is earliest surviving historical account of the Kumbh Mela, which took place in present-day Allahabad in 644 CE.[14][15][16]

The Kumbh Mela of Haridwar appears to be the original Kumbh Mela, since it is held according to the astrological sign "Kumbha" (Aquarius), and because there are several references to a 12-year cycle for it. According to researcher Kama Maclean of University of New South Wales, the association of Allahabad's river-side festival with the Kumbh myth and the 12-year old cycle is relatively recent, dating back to the mid-19th century. She argues that no ancient texts or even early British records mention the 12-year cycle for the Allahabad's festival. The Xuanzang reference is about an event that happened every 5 years (and not 12 years), and might have been a Buddhist celebration (since Harsha was a Buddhist emperor). The first British reference to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad occurs only in an 1868 report, which mentions the need for increased pilgrimage and sanitation controls at the "Coomb fair" to be held in January 1870. According to Maclean, the Prayagwal Brahmins of Allahabad adapted their annual Magh Mela to Kumbh legend, in order to increase the importance of their tirtha. Similar melas in Nashik and Ujjain were later adapted to suit the Kumbh myth and the 12-year cycle.[17]

A major innovation effort, Kumbathon by MIT Media Lab in 2013, has created a new initiative called KF27 (Kumbha Foundation 2027) to bring technology and innovation to Kumbha Mela. The multi-year platform Kumbha.Org now spans areas in health, transportation, payments, food, civic issues, housing and so on.


Planetary positions during 2013 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag)

Traditionally, the following four Kumbh mela sites are recognized: Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Trimbak (Nashik) and Ujjain.[18][19] The Kumbh Mela in the Nashik district was originally held at Trimbak, but later the Vaishnavaites started celebrating the festival at the nearby Nashik city; the Shaivites continue to regard Trimbak as the proper location.[20]

Priests at other places have also attempted to boost the status of their tirtha by adapting the Kumbh legends. The places whose festivals have been claimed as "Kumbh Mela" include Varanasi, Vrindavan, Kumbhakonam (Mahamaham) and Rajim (Rajim Kumbh). Even Tibet has hosted a festival claimed to be a Kumbh Mela.[21]:102

Each site's celebration dates are calculated in advance according to a special combination of zodiacal positions of Bṛhaspati (Jupiter), the Sun and the Moon.

Place River Zodiac[22] Month Note
Prayag (Allahabad) Ganga and Yamuna Jupiter in Aries / Taurus, Sun and Moon in Capricorn Magha (January-February) "Magh Mela", called the "mini Kumbh Mela", is held annually
Haridwar Ganga Jupiter in Aquarius, Sun in Aries Chaitra (March-April)
Trimbak (Nashik) Godavari Jupiter and Sun in Leo
or Jupiter, Sun and Moon in Cancer on lunar conjunction (Amavasya)
Bhadrapada (August-September) Also known as Simhastha / Sinhastha, when Leo is involved
Ujjain Shipra Jupiter in Leo, Sun in Aries
or Jupiter, Sun, and Moon in Libra on Kartik Amavasya
Vaisakha (April-May) Also known as Simhastha / Sinhastha, when Leo is involved


Kumbh Mela 2013 Sangam, Allahabad

The Kumbh Mela occurrences follow the Hindu calendar, as follows:[19]

  • The Kumbh Mela (sometimes specifically called Purna Kumbh or "full Kumbha"), occurs every 12 years at a given site.
  • Ardh Kumbh ("Half Kumbh") Mela occurs between the two Purna Kumbha Melas at Prayag and Haridwar.
  • The Maha Kumbh occurs after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas i.e. every 144 years.

The Kumbh Mela at Prayag is celebrated after 3 years of Kumbh Mela at Haridwar. There is a difference of 3 years between the Kumbh Festivals at Prayag and Nasik. Kumbh at Nasik and Ujjain are celebrated in the same year or one year apart.[22]

Year Prayag (Allahabad) Haridwar Trimbak (Nashik) Ujjain
1980 Kumbh Mela Kumbh Mela
1983 Ardh Kumbh Mela
1986 Kumbh Mela
1989 Kumbh Mela
1992 Ardh Kumbh Mela Kumbh Mela Kumbh Mela
1995 Ardh Kumbh Mela
1998 Kumbh Mela
2001 Kumbh Mela
2003 Kumbh Mela
2004 Ardh Kumbh Mela Kumbh Mela
2007 Ardh Kumbh Mela
2010 Kumbh Mela
2013 Kumbh Mela
2015 Kumbh Mela
2016 Ardh Kumbh Mela Kumbh Mela
2019 Ardh Kumbh Mela
2021/2022 Kumbh Mela


Kumbh Mela at Prayag, 2001
A saint in Maha Kumbh 2013

According to The Imperial Gazetteer of India, an outbreak of cholera occurred at the 1892 Mela at Haridwar leading to the rapid improvement of arrangements by the authorities and to the formation of Haridwar Improvement Society. In 1903 about 400,000 people are recorded as attending the fair.[23] During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Prayag, around 500 people were killed, and scores were injured. Ten million people gathered at Haridwar for the Kumbh on 14 April 1998.[24]

In 2001, more than 40 million gathered on the busiest of its 55 days.[25]

According to the Mela Administration's estimates, around 70 million people participated in the 45-day Ardha Kumbh Mela at Prayag in 2007.[26]

The 2001 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag) was estimated by the authorities to have attracted between 30 and 70 million people.[27][28][29] The estimated attendance for the 2013 Allahabad Kumbh Mela was 120 million.[7]

The ritual[edit]

Naga sadhu procession 1998 Kumbh Mela

One of the major events of Kumbh Mela is the Peshwai Procession, which marks the arrival of the members of an akhara or sect of sadhus at the Kumbh Mela.[30] The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town Kumbh Mela being held:Ganga in Haridwar, Godavari in Nasik, Kshipra in Ujjain and Sangam (confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati) in Allahabad (Prayag). Nasik has registered maximum visitors to 75 million. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor, and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardised. Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages.[citation needed] Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with Vibhuti ashes dabbed on their skin as per the requirements of ancient traditions. Some, called naga sanyasis, may not wear any clothes even in severe winter.[citation needed] The right to be naga, or naked, is considered a sign of separation from the material world.[8]

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

The order of entering the water is fixed, with the Juna, the Niranjani and Mahanirvani akharas preceding.[32]


Darshan, or respectful visual exchange, is an important part of the Kumbh Mela. People make the pilgrimage to the Kumbh Mela specifically to see and experience both the religious and secular aspects of the event. Two major groups that participate in the Kumbh Mela include the Sadhus (Hindu holy men) and pilgrims. Through their continual yogic practices the Sadhus articulate the transitory aspect of life. Sadhus travel to the Kumbh Mela to make themselves available to much of the Hindu public. This allows members of the Hindu public to interact with the Sadhus and to take "darshan." They are able to "seek instruction or advice in their spiritual lives." Darshan focuses on the visual exchange, where there is interaction with a religious deity and the worshiper is able to visually "'drink' divine power." The Kumbh Mela is arranged in camps that give Hindu worshipers access to the Sadhus. The darshan is important to the experience of the Kumbh Mela and because of this worshipers must be careful so as to not displease religious deities. Seeing of the Sandus is carefully managed and worshipers often leave tokens at their feet.[8]

Recent Kumbh Melas[edit]


According to Paramahansa Yogananda in his work the Autobiography of a Yogi, it was during the Kumbh Mela in January 1893 at Prayag that his Guru Sri Yukteswar met Mahavatar Babaji for the first time.[33]


When the Kumbh Mela was held in Nashik, India, from 27 July to 7 September 2003, 39 pilgrims (28 women and 11 men) were trampled to death and 57 were injured. Devotees had gathered on the banks of the Godavari river for the maha snaanam or holy bath. Over 30,000 pilgrims were being held back by barricades in a narrow street leading to the Ramkund, a holy spot, so the sadhus could take the first ceremonial bath. Reportedly, a sadhu threw some silver coins into the crowd and the subsequent scramble led to the stampede.[34][35]


Sinhastha Mela was held in Ujjain in the year of 2004 on the banks of River Shipra.


More than 70 million people visited Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag.[36]


Haridwar hosted the Purna Kumbh mela from Makar Sankranti (14 January 2010) to Shakh Purnima Snan (28 April 2010). Millions of Hindu pilgrims attended the mela. On 14 April 2010, alone approximately 10 million people bathed in the Ganges river.[37] According to officials by mid April about 40 million people had bathed since 14 January 2010.[38] Hundreds of foreigners joined Indian pilgrims in the festival which is thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world.[38][39] To accommodate the large number of pilgrims Indian Railways ran special trains.[40] At least 5 people died in a stampede after clashes between holy men and devotees.[41]

Indian Space Research Organisation took satellite pictures of the crowds with the hope of improving the conduct of the festival in the future.[42]


The next Kumbha Mela will be held at Nashik (Maharashtra).[43] The details of most auspicious days (bathing dates) in year 2015 during Nashik Kumbh Mela are:

  • 14 July 2015 (Tuesday): Flag hoisting of the main ceremony at Ram Kunda
  • 19 August 2015 (Wednesday): Flag hoisting of the Akhara at Sadhugram
  • 26 August 2015 (Wednesday): Shravan Shudha- First Snan
  • 29 August 2015 (Saturday): Shravan Purnima - First Shahi Snan at Ram Kunda
  • 13 September 2015 (Sunday): Bhadrapad Amavasya - Second Shahi Snan/ Main bathing day
  • 18 September 2015 (Friday): Bhadrapad Shukla Panchmi (Rushipanchami) - Third Shahi Snan
  • 25 September 2015 (Friday): Bhadrapad Shukla Dwadashi - Vaman Dwadashi Snan

The complete details of Simhastha Kumbh Mela Nashik - Trimbakeshwar 2015 can be found on https://kumbhmela2015.maharashtra.gov.in (Official website of Maharashtra Government)

Kumbh Mela in media[edit]

  • Amrita Kumbher Sandhane, a 1982 Bengali feature film directed by Dilip Roy, documents the Kumbh Mela. Kumbh Mela has been theme for many a documentaries, including Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth (2001) directed by Graham Day,[44] On 24 September, The Hindu reported the great faith in god displayed in Kumbh Mela at Nasik which had more than 70 million visitors in 2003 Kumbh Mela. (2004), by Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day,[45][46] Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River (2004), by Nadeem Uddin,[47] and Invocation, Kumbh Mela (2008).[48]
  • Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela is a 2004 documentary film was set in the 2001 Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad. This film is directed by Nick Day and produced by "Maurizio Benazzo".[49]
  • On 18 April 2010, a popular American morning show The CBS Sunday Morning gave an extensive coverage on Haridwar's Kumbh Mela "The Largest Pilgrimage on Earth". Calling it "one of the most extraordinary displays of faith on Earth, a spectacular journey drawing tens of millions of people".
  • On 28 April 2010, BBC reported an audio and a video report on Kumbh Mela, titled "Kumbh Mela 'greatest show on earth'."
  • On 30 September 2010, the Kumbh Mela featured in the second episode of the Sky One TV series "An Idiot Abroad" with Karl Pilkington visiting the festival.
  • In 2011 the documentary on Kumbh Mela, 'Kumbh Mela: Walking with the Nagas', was produced.
  • Amrit: Nectar of Immortality (2012) is a documentary which was shot at the Kumbh Mela 2010 in Haridwar, this film is directed by Jonas Scheu and Philipp Eyer.[50]
  • On 10 Feb 2013, Media reported that 36 people died in a stampede at the Allahabad railway station, the union and state governments have denied that organizational lapses may have contributed to the tragedy; they say the massive rush of passengers, returning from a dip in the waters of the Ganga and Yamuna, at the Maha Kumbh, the world's largest religious festival.
  • In March, 2013, the documentary "Inside the Mahakumbh" by the National Geographic Channel produced this documentary which also featured the California-born Baba Rampuri, the first foreigner to become a Sadhu.
  • In June 2013 Ukrainian Religious Studies Project Ahamot produced a documentary "Kumbh Mela 2013: living with Mahatiagi" based on their own ethnographic experience with this denomination at Sangam.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nashik Kumbh Mela dates declared – Indian Express". The Indian Express. 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2013. First Shahi Snaanam will be held on August 29, 2015, at Rama Kunda, the second on September 13 and the third on September 18 
  2. ^ "Business Line : Features News : Stage set for Maha Kumbh Mela 2013". Business Line. 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2013. will conclude on Maha Shivaratri on March 10 
  3. ^ The Maha Kumbh Mela 2001 indianembassy.org
  4. ^ "Record 120 million take dip as Maha Kumbh fest ends". Khaleej Times. 12 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "Photos: Kumbh Mela, world's biggest religious festival". CNN. 25 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Over 3 crore take holy dip in Sangam on Mauni Amavasya". IBNLive. 10 February 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Rashid, Omar (11 February 2013). "Over three crore devotees take the dip at Sangam". The Hindu (Chennai). 
  8. ^ a b c McLean, Kama. "Seeing, Being Seen, and Not Being Seen: Pilgrimage, Tourism, and Layers of Looking at the Kumbh Mela." (2009): 319-41. Ebscohost. Web. 28 Sept. 2014..
  9. ^ "Kumbh Mela 2015-16: Nashik City" (PDF). Police Commissionerate, Nasik City. 2014. 
  10. ^ Ramayana, Book I; Canto: XLV – The Quest for the Amrit Ramayana of Valmiki.
  11. ^ The Holiest Day in History Time, 31 January 1977.
  12. ^ Urn Festival, Time, 1 May 1950.
  13. ^ Buddhist Records of the Western World, Book V by Xuan Zang
  14. ^ Dilip Kumar Roy; Indira Devi (1955). Kumbha: India's ageless festival. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. xxii. 
  15. ^ Mark Tully (1992). No Full Stops in India. Penguin Books Limited. pp. 127–. ISBN 978-0-14-192775-6. 
  16. ^ Mark Juergensmeyer; Wade Clark Roof (2011). Encyclopedia of Global Religion. SAGE Publications. pp. 677–. ISBN 978-1-4522-6656-5. 
  17. ^ Vikram Doctor (2013-02-10). "Kumbh mela dates back to mid-19th century, shows research". Economic Times. 
  18. ^ J. S. Mishra (2004). Mahakumbh, the Greatest Show on Earth. Har-Anand Publications. p. 17. ISBN 978-81-241-0993-9. 
  19. ^ a b J. C. Rodda; Lucio Ubertini; Symposium on the Basis of Civilization--Water Science? (2004). The Basis of Civilization--water Science?. International Association of Hydrological Science. pp. 165–. ISBN 978-1-901502-57-2. 
  20. ^ Vaishali Balajiwale (13 July 2015). "Project Trimbak, not Nashik, as the place for Kumbh: Shaiva akhadas". DNA. 
  21. ^ Kama Maclean (28 August 2008). Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765-1954. OUP USA. ISBN 978-0-19-533894-2. 
  22. ^ a b Mela Adhikari Kumbh Mela 2013. "Official Website of Kumbh Mela 2013 Allahabad Uttar Pradesh India". Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  23. ^ Haridwar The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1909, v. 13, p. 52.
  24. ^ What Is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures into a Profound Global Faith. Himalayan Academy Publications. pp. 242–243. ISBN 978-1-934145-27-2. 
  25. ^ "India's Hindu Kumbh Mela festival begins in Allahabad". BBC News. 
  26. ^ "Ardha Kumbh – 2007: The Ganges River". Mela Administration. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 
  27. ^ Kumbh Mela pictured from space – probably the largest human gathering in history BBC News, 26 January 2001.
  28. ^ Kumbh Mela: the largest pilgrimage – Pictures: Kumbh Mela by Karoki Lewis The Times, 22 March 2008. Behind paywall.
  29. ^ Kumbh Mela, New Scientist, 25 January 2001
  30. ^ Sadhus astride elephants, horses at Maha Kumbh
  31. ^ Mark Twain, "Following the Equator: A journey around the world"
  32. ^ Nandita Sengupta (13 February 2010). "Naga sadhus steal the show at Kumbh", TNN
  33. ^ Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda Chapter 36 Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, wikisource.
  34. ^ 39 killed in Kumbh Mela stampede The Hindu, 28 August 2003
  35. ^ "Holy man's gift blamed for 39 dead in stampede" The Guardian, 28 August 2003.
  36. ^ http://www.niticentral.com/2013/02/10-things-about-kumbh-mela-that-you-never-knew.html Archived 9 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Yardley, Jim; Kumar,Hari (14 April 2010). "Taking a Sacred Plunge, One Wave of Humanity at a Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2010. 
  38. ^ a b Millions dip in Ganges at world's biggest festival, Agence France-Presse, 13 April 2010
  39. ^ Foreigners join huge crowds at India’s holy river festival, The Gazette, 14 April 2010
  40. ^ "More trains during Kumbh Mela". The Times of India. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2010. 
  41. ^ Five die in stampede at Hindu bathing festival, BBC, 14 April 2010
  42. ^ ISRO taking satellite pictures of MahaKumbh mela, Press Trust of India, 13 April 2010
  43. ^ "10 million to gather for 2015 Nashik Kumbh Mela". Zee News. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
  44. ^ Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth at the Internet Movie Database
  45. ^ Short Cut to Nirvana at the Internet Movie Database
  46. ^ "Short Cut to Nirvana - A Documentary about the Kumbh Mela Spiritual Festival". Mela Films. 
  47. ^ Kumbh Mela: Songs of the River at the Internet Movie Database
  48. ^ Invocation, Kumbh Mela at the Internet Movie Database
  49. ^ "Short Cut to Nirvana - A Documentary about the Kumbh Mela Spiritual Festival". melafilms.com. 
  50. ^ "Amrit:Nectar of Immortality". Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  51. ^ http://ahamot.org/en/kumbhmela2013-living-with-mahatiagi | Kumbh Mela 2013: Living with Mahatiagi

Further reading[edit]

  • Maclean, Kama (2008) Pilgrimage and Power: The Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, 1765–1954 New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-533894-2

External links[edit]