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February - March 2007


Kumbh Mela - A Drop of Heaven on Earth

by Dr Raj Pandit Sharma

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

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