The Kumbha Mela is the world’s greatest spiritual fair.
The Vedas describe the origin of the Kumbha Mela in the story of the stirring of the ocean of consciousness, in which, at a rare moment of cooperation between the devas and demons for the purpose of obtaining divine gifts, proceeded to pull either end of the cosmic snake Vasuki which was wrapped around the divine mount Mandara.
As the churning proceeded, divine blessings emerged until the greatest prize appeared, the amrit, the nectar of immortality. At that moment, Jayanti, the son of Indra, lord of the Gods, seized the pot of amrit and ran off with it, chased by the furious demons.
For twelve days he was chased, each night being spent in 8 locations in heaven, and four on earth, each location becoming sacred when drops of the amrit spilled. The four locations on earth are Nasik, Ujjain, Allahabad, and Haridwar, at which in each location every twelve years, a Kumbha Mela is held.
Kumbh, Poorna Kumbh or Maha Kumbh are the titles given to the fairs held every twelve years at Haridwar (Uttaranchal), Prayag (Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) and Nashik (Maharashtra). The planetary positions of the Sun, the Moon and the Jupiter decide the place where Kumbh would be held.
- When the Sun sojourns in the constellation Aries and Jupiter in Aquarius, Kumbh is held at Haridwar.
- When the Sun passes through Capricorn and the Jupiter through Taurus, Kumbh is held at Prayag.
- Kumbh is held at Ujjain when the Sun and the Moon traverse through Aries when Jupiter is in Leo, the Kumbh is held at Nashik.
The fairs at Nashik and Ujjain are called Simhastha Kumbh as Jupiter is located in the constellation Simha (Leo). The Kumbh at Prayag is Vrishastha (Jupiter in Taurus) and the fair at Haridwar is Kumbhastha (Jupiter in Aquarius).
Besides the Kumbh there are half- way congregations at these cities. These are called the Ardhakumbh. Unlike the Kumbh, during the Ardhakumbh, the sadhus move to Ujjain with their Akharas. The Simhastha Kumbhs at Nashik and Ujjain generally fall at a year’s interval. At both these places the sadhus and the commoners get together, making these fairs a meeting ground of those who have renounced the world. But the Ardhakumbh at Haridwar is the fair of the grihasthas (householders) only. It is held every six years.