The Kumbh Mela “festival of the pot of nectar of immortality” functions the largest human gathering in the world. It is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage and bathing festival that takes place at the following 4 locations of India: Prayag, Nasik, Ujjain, and Haridwar. It is held every three years in each of four different locations, returning to each of four places every twelve years.
During the festival, pilgrims stay at tents owned by Pandas (religious and spiritual guides) and at various ashrams and hotels. Hundreds of large tents are erected as far as you can see to accommodate the millions of people. Out of many, there are 10 major bathing dates on which naga sadhus (naked mendicants) will parade and bathe. On all other days, there will still be people bathing, other events, and random processions. Some of these bathing days are designated “royal.”
During the Kumba Melas, the 3600 acres called the Kumba Mela grounds that surround the sangam (conflux of sacred rivers) becomes its own city with roads, streetlights, markets, medical facilities, and areas for food distribution, etc. It is common to see whole families come to the festival from any part of India. They come by bus, car, train, plane, or even by foot.
Many of India’s most elevated mystics, sages, and yogis also attend. Some of these sages are hundreds of years old, live in the pure atmosphere of the Himalayas, and are never seen except at such festivals. After taking immaculate bath, all the spiritual groups go back to their permanent dwellings, such as their Himalayan forest ashramas or South Indian temples, while the pilgrims return to their homes.
The secret behind this huge gathering during this Mela is to bathe at certain sacred spots on certain auspicious days. One of the most important aspects of the festival is to allow ordinary pilgrims the opportunity to associate with saintly persons for instruction in attaining spiritual realization. The akharas (the different spiritual sects or groups) stay in different camps wherein their religious discourses and spiritual talks and debates are one of the main attractions for visitors to the Mela.
The Mela is like a huge convention of spiritual groups and ashramas allowing everyone to check them out. The Mela festivals are a highly energized and spiritual event for one to attend. No matter what aspect of the Kumbha Mela festival a person sees or participates in, it is an event that has no comparison.