February - March 2007
Kumbh Mela - A Drop of Heaven on Earth
Kumbh Mela witnesses the largest gathering of humanity on the planet, as the eternal Hindu faith shines as a jewel in the crown. The full moon (Paush Purnima) on
3 January 2007 heralded the start of the six-week festival of the sacred urn,
Ardha Kumbh Mela. The festival marks the halfway point between the twelve-yearly
Maha Kumbh Mela and is in progress in the Northern Indian city of Allahabad.
The Mughal Emperor Akbar gave the name to the city in 1583. The "Allah" in
the name does not come from Allah as God's name in Islam but from the Din-Ilahi,
which was the religion founded by Akbar. In Indian alphabets it is spelt "Ilâhâbâd": "ilâh" is
Arabic for "a God" (but in this context from Din-Ilahi), and "-âbâd" is
Persian for "place of".
The city is known as Prayag (Sanskrit for "place of sacrifice" and
is considered the spot where Lord Brahma offered his first sacrifice after
creating the world). It is one of four sites of the Kumbh Mela, the others
being Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Prayag is located at the confluence of the
holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna, and the invisible Saraswati River joins here.
The ancient Saraswati River (Naditama) whose existence was denied for centuries
by western geographers and termed ‘mythical’ has now been shown
through LANDSAT imagery by NASA to be real. This vindicates the ancient Vedic
scriptures that have always described its glory.
“Aum Gange cha’ Yamune chaiva Godavari Sarasvati,
Narmada Sindhu Kaveri jala ‘asmin sanidhim kuru.”
Earthquakes and other natural phenomenon caused the 'Naditama', or River Saraswati,
to dry up over two millennia previously and become subterranean. Its main headwater
was diverted eastwards into the upper Yamuna, and thus its water reaches Allahabad.
Even now, Saraswati flows underground from its source in the Shivalik mountains
in the north, under the deserts of Rajasthan and through Gujarat.
The Puranic scriptures relate that four drops of the elixir of immortality
or ’amrit’ spilt from a divine pitcher during a battle between
the forces of good and evil. Each portion of the ambrosial liquid fell at different
locations, one of them being Prayag. The great festival or Maha Kumbh Mela
occurs every twelve years at a predetermined time when the planets are aligned
in an exact configuration. However, triennial gatherings also take place, rotating
between the sacred sites where the elixir was deposited. During the Maha Kumbh
Mela of 2001 over 70 million people, many from abroad visited Prayag and by
all accounts, this year from January to mid-February similar numbers will be
visiting the holy site.
The significant bathing days for 2007 are-
1) Paush Purnima (3 January)
2) Makar Sankranti (14/15 January)
3) Mauni Amavasya (19 January)
4) Vasant Panchmi (23 January)
5) Maghi Purnima ( 2 February)
6) Maha Shivaratri-last day (16 February)
This extraordinary display of faith defies logic and many cynics have questioned
what drives the Faithful to undertake a sometimes-difficult journey. It is
the magnetism of the unique planetary configuration at the time of the Kumbh
Mela that beckons to the primeval soul intrinsic to us all. Despite our worldly
trappings, we still seek a higher consciousness that cannot be found from material
things. Periodically the planets align to open up this channel to salvation
at these exclusive sites.
A fundamental precept of Sanatan Dharma is reincarnation, whereby, the soul
undergoes a number of life cycles until it reaches moksha - liberation from
the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, eventually joining the Supreme Being.
During each of these lives an individual has the chance to better himself through
righteous actions or ‘punya‘. Just as the farmer sows grains of
wheat in a freshly ploughed field, it is inevitable that weeds may also take
root. Similarly, even the most well intentioned individual will commit wrongful
deeds during his life, which may jeopardise the prospects for the soul in the
next. The Universal Being through his compassion and love for us all has provided
a divine shortcut to deliverance through the Kumbh Mela. A person, irrespective
of worldly divisions such as creed, caste or position enters a divine realm
where all previous sins are washed away. Through bathing in the sacred waters
at the auspicious time, the indiscretions of many lives are eliminated, thereby
allowing the soul to be eligible for enlightenment.
The Kumbh Mela not only allows the pilgrim to be absolved of previous transgressions,
but the numerous ‘Darshans’ (sights) and ‘Satsangs’ (audiences)
with the plethora of Saints and enlightened ones, ensures that our minds are
also purified and inspired to change our ways and discard our former lifestyles.
A pebble may remain in the sacred waters of Mother Ganga for centuries, however
if it is removed from the water and broken in two, the inside is dry. Even
though the pure nectar of the Ganges surrounded it, the stone was not penetrated
by Ganga’s essence. Similarly, just by conducting rituals and acts of
piety, this does not cleanse the spirit. Conduct alone is the ultimate determinant
of a soul’s destiny. The Shastras stipulate ‘Aachaar heenam nah
punanti Vedah’ that even knowledge of the entire Vedas, will not purify
one devoid of good conduct. Remember that even the smallest candle flame can
impart much light in a dark room. Therefore, a nominal act of kindness can
undo centuries of indiscretions.
Let Mother Ganga purify our hearts with wisdom and awaken our minds so that
we may become the models of virtue.
Dr Raj Pandit Sharma
Executive Representative - Hindu Ceremonies - Hindu Council UK
More articles by Dr Raj Pandit Sharma
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