In Prayagraj, hearing the word “Kumbh”, creates the picturesque vision of Triveni Sangam in one’s mind. At the sacred confluence of rivers (Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati), huge multitudes filled with sense of devotion move like waves in the ocean. ‘Shahi Snaan’ of Akharas, chanting of vedic mantras and elucidations of religious hymns in the Pandaals, proclamations of knowledge, spiritual music, holy dip in the Sangam with utmost devotion fills the heart of devotees with immense joy.
Kumbh is a symbol of peace and harmony amongst all human beings. The Kumbh Mela has been inscribed on the list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2017. This reflects the significance of Kumbh worldwide. The Kumbh Mela at Prayag is very different as compared to Kumbh at other places due to many reasons. Firstly, the tradition of long-term Kalpvas is practiced only in Prayag. Secondly, the Triveni Sangam is considered as the center of the earth in few scriptures. Thirdly, Lord Brahma performed the Yajna here for creating the universe. Fourthly, Prayagraj is called the shrine of pilgrimages, but the most important reason is that the significance of performing rituals and tapas at Prayagraj is of highest among all pilgrimages and provides one with the highest virtue. The Kumbh Mela at Prayag takes place for approximately 55 days, spread over thousands of hectares around the sangam area, and becomes the greatest of ephemeral city in the world.
The origin of Kumbh Mela was transcribed by the 8th-century philosopher Shankara. The founding myth of the Kumbh Mela points out to the Puranas (compilation of ancient legends). It recounts how Gods and demons fought over the sacred pitcher (Kumbh) of Amrit (nectar of immortality) called the Ratna of Samudra Manthan. It is widely believed that Lord Vishnu (disguised as the enchantress ‘Mohini’) whisked the Kumbh out of the grasp of the covetous demons who had tried to claim it. As he took it heavenwards, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on the four sacred site we know as Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Prayag.
The term ‘Kumbh’ comes from the root ‘kumbhak’ (the sacred pitcher of elixir of immortality). There is a mention of ‘Kumbh’ and the bathing ritual associated with it in the Rig Veda. It speaks of the benefits of bathing at Sangam during this period, elimination of negative influences and rejuvenation of mind and soul. Prayers for the ‘Kumbh’ are also expressed in Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda.
The story of Samudra Manthan, one of the best-known episodes in the Hindu mythology, narrated in the Bhagvad Purana states that the sacred alignments of celestial bodies directly relate to the Kumbh festival. It took 12 divine days to carry the Amrit to the heavens. As one divine day of Gods is equivalent to one year of the humans, the journey to the heavens symbolizes 12 years in human terms. That is why every twelfth year when Jupiter enters the Aries constellation on the day of the new moon in the month of Magh, the Kumbh festival is organized.