Spirituality, mysticism, festivity, adventure and cultural extravaganza meet on the banks of River Kshipra at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, with the beginning of the month-long Maha Kumbh Mela — Simhastha on 22 April.
With the sunrise, the first holy dip in the river Kshipra (Shahi Snan) on Friday by nearly one million (10 lakh) devotees from various parts of the world, including 1.25 lakh sadhus (seers), marked the beginning of the Simhastha — the largest congregation of Hindus in the world.
Amidst the sound of conches and traditional musical instruments such as Dhol (drum) and Nagada, a large group of Naga sadhus belonging to Juna Akhada jumped into the river for a holy bath followed by others.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan along with his wife took a holy dip during Shahi Snan on the first day.
Massive arrangements have been made for the grand event, which attracts many foreign tourists. “Today, we have made arrangements for 400 buses and 100 vans to take pilgrims from their destinations to bathing ghats. Besides this, we have full-fledged medical arrangement to take care of the devotees,” a Simhastha administration official said.
In a first, eunuchs and transgenders have participated in this Maha Kumbh under the umbrella of Kinnar Akhara. “This is the first time we are participating in Maha Kumbh and will be a part of various rituals. We also have our programmes to showcase during the Mela,” said Rishi Ajay Das, in-charge of the Kinnar Akhara.
About Simhastha (Kumbh) Mela
- From 22 April to 21 May at Ujjain.
- It’s called Simhastha due to celestial configuration. The ‘Simhastha Maha Kumbh’ in Ujjain occurs when the Sun (Surya) is in zodiac sign Aries (Mesh) and Jupiter (Guru) in Leo (Simha).
- The Kumbh Mela township is spread across more than 3,000 hectares and is divided into six zones and 22 sectors.
- Budget earmarked of Rs 3,500 crore but likely to touch around Rs 5,000 crore; this is an increase of more than 10 times in the budget allocation for Simastha 2004.
- 14 bridges and roads worth Rs 362 crore have been built; and a permanent 450-bed hospital has been built.
- An ambulance with 14 stretchers has been created to carry patients from the Mela site to nearby hospital.
- Digital display will tell a person from 30 km distance about parking facility and position.
- Water from the Narmada river has been brought to the Kshipra.
- According to MP government an estimated 5 crore pilgrims will visit Kumbh Mela from across the world.
All you wanted to know about the Simhastha:
- Akharas: There are 13 akharas (group/ school/institution of sadhus) like Juna, Nimrohi, Digambar, Nirvani, etc who have got approval from all the sects of Hindu religion and are participating. Of the 13 akharas, seven follow Shavism, three are Panchayati and three Vaishnavite.
- Types of sadhus at Simhastha:
1. Naga sadhus: Naked sadhus who smear their bodies with ash and have long matted hair. Constant exposure to the weather makes them resistant to temperature extremes. Their eyes are bloodshot from constantly smoking charas (marijuana), which they believe aids enlightenment.
2. Shirshasinse: The ones who remain standing, sleep with their heads resting on a vertical pole, and meditate standing on their heads.
3. Kalpvasis: Those who remain by the river banks and devote their time to meditating, performing rituals, and bathing numerous times a day.
4. Urdhwavahurs: They have emaciated bodies from rigid spiritual practices.
5. Parivajakas: These are the ones who have taken a vow of silence.
- Kinnar Akhara: For the first time in the history, Kinnar Akhara or Pari Akhara — a group of about 1000 eunuchs and transgenders from across the country — has participated and they will have procession in the city, host Bhagawath Kathas, Ram Katha, the yagya and the holy bath.
- Shahi Snan (Holy royal bath/dip): There are 10 auspicious days for bathing including three for the ‘Shahi Snan’ (April 22, May 9 and May 21).
- Ghats for bathing: Ram Ghat (ancient and holiest ghat), Triveni Ghat (at the confluence of rivers Kshipra, Khan and the invisible Saraswati), Ganga Ghat, Mangalnath Ghat, Gau Ghat, Kabir Ghat, Siddhwat Ghat, etc.
- Rituals: In the camps of various Akharas, one gets to see and experience rituals of different kinds from yogic to tantric practices. Pilgrims and tourists visit Simhastha to experience the unlocking of the mysticism in Hindu rituals.
- Facility for cashless transaction: All the shops at Kumbh Mela will accept cards. Besides, 70 ATMs and 300 executives from various banks have been deployed.
Legend behind Kumbh Mela
Kumbh means pot or pitcher. Mela means festival or fair. Hence, the Kumbh Mela means festival of the pot. According to Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean (‘Samudra Manthan’) threw up Amrit or the nectar of immortality. Both gods and demons were part of the churning process and it was decided that nectar would be shared equally between the two groups. However, a fight broke between the two and during the battle celestial bird Garuda flew away with the pot (kumbh) of nectar. It’s believed that wherever the drops of nectar fell — Prayag in Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain — the auspicious Kumbh Mela is celebrated in a rotational basis. In each location, it’s held after every 12 years. The exact time and place of the festival depends on astrological and religious considerations. In between, in the sixth year, the Ardh Kumbh Mela (half mela) takes place.
Ujjain’s historical legacy
Ujjain, the ancient city situated on the eastern banks of river Kshipra was the most prominent city on the Malwa plateau and as the capital of the ancient Avanti kingdom, it emerged as the political centre of Central India around 600 BCE. Ujjain remained an important centre of political, commercial and cultural activities until the 19th century, when the British decided to develop Indore as an alternative centre for commercial activities. It’s an important pilgrimage site for various sects among Hindus.
Historical stalwarts like poet Kalidas, legendary emperor Vikramaditya and king Bindusar, father of Emperor Ashoka were associated with this city.