Monday, January 14, 2013

What is Maha Kumbh Mela?

Maha =  Great
Kumbh = Sanskrit for a type of pot (Kalash or Ghada)
Mela = Sanskrit for gathering
Maha Kumbh Mela = Great Festival of the Pot - this occurs once every 12 years. (There is a special alignment of the stars every 144 years that this festival celebrates as well.)

The festival for 2013 starts today, January 14, and runs through March 10.

So basically, the two words put together describe a holiday where Hindu's gather to bathe in a ceremonial/ritual setting. It is a festival regarded as the biggest religious gathering in the world.

Today is a major celebration for Hindu's all across the world. This is the day they make their pilgrimage to the Ganges river to bathe in it. It is believed that bathing in the Ganges on this day frees a Hindu from the cycle of rebirth and from karma. (For Christians, the concept is similar to baptism in that it releases you from all your past bad deeds...aka sins.)

The kumbh mela festivals start off with millions of Hindu's gathering at 1 of 4 designated locations across India; Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. This year the festival starts from Allahabad which is typical for all the Maha Kumbh Mela's. From there they travel, many by foot, to the Ganges river. Once at the river they bathe or dip themselves in it. This bathing isn't like what you do on a daily basis where you wash your hair. It's a ceremonial bath.

There are 9 ceremonial bathing dates that are important for this festival.

14th January – Makar Sankranti - This is the day the Sun God begins to ascend into the Northern Hemisphere

22nd January – Paush Shukla Paksha Ekadasi (Paush is the month on the Hindu calendar) An auspicious night (Ekadasi). I'm unable to find the exact meaning but this date involves fasting and has some reference to Lord Krishna revealing parts of the Bhagavad Gita.

27th January – Paush Purnima - This is the date of the full moon in the month of Paush. It is considered auspicious and bathing in the Ganges on this day purifies the bather of their past sins/indiscretions. Bathing on this date also allows the follower to achieve moksha, or freedom from the cycle of rebirth.

6th February – Paush Krishna Paksha Ekadasi - The auspicious night in the month of Paush. It's the 11th day of the waning moon.

10th February – Mauni Amavasya - Considered the most important date, this is the birthday of Manu Rishi and is considered the beginning of the universe. It's the date Maharaja Manu and queen Shatrupa were created. There is no moon on this date.

15th February – Basant Panchami Snan or Vasant Panchami (literally translated as the 5th day of Spring) This is the date that followers worship Saraswati. It also signifies the beginning of Vasant Ritu, a kite flying festival.

21st February – Jaya Ekadasi - This is an auspiciuos night dedicated to both Lord Vishnu and Shiva. The moon is now waxing and this ceremony involves fasting to augment relief from your sins/indiscretions. This is known as Bhisma Ekadasi in South India.

25th February – Maghi Purnima - This is the date of the full moon in the month of Magha and is considered highly auspicious. Hindu's fast and practice piety and devotion. Food is offered to dead ancestors, gifts are given to the poor and Brahmins are fed then given dan dakshina (donations).

10th March – Mahashivratri - Literally translated as the night of Shiva. This is Shiva's day of rest.

And not that it matters much, but this is the festival where most of the men are naked while they make the pilgrimage. It's the one that comes up in photos all over google when you search for many aspects of Indian culture or to learn more about the Ganges.

For more information on the festival, check out the following links:
The Hindu: Maha Kumbh Mela 2013
Youtube: Maha Kumbh Mela 2001 part 1


  1. Ekadasi is the eleventh day of each half of the month. Hindu months are broken up into the 'waxing' part (Shukla Paksha) and the 'waning' part (Krishna Paksha). Krishna, as you know, means dark, and shukla means white. So "Poush Shukla Paksha Ekadasi" is "the eleventh day of the waxing moon phase in the month of Poush." Ekadasi is indeed considered an auspicious date and followers of Krishna observe it with fasting.

  2. Oh okay. I asked hubby but he couldn't define the words for me. Thanks for clearing that up.