Tradition of Mahakumbha is ancient, almost 8,000 years old. Adhyatmika and cosmic churning of almost unlimited diversity that occurs during Mahakumbha is diametrically opposite, rather antithesis of the dismal / monotonous world of acquisition, possession and sense-satisfaction. It is a unique and spectacular exhibition of faith and order underneath chaos on such a mass scale that no other event anywhere in the world can be dubbed similar or close to it by any stretch of imagination. Mahakumbha is a re-affirmation of underlying unity of innumerable strands of faiths, societal traditions, religious conventions and ancient values in this sprawling, continent-sized nation.
Hinduism is so all encompassing that it includes even it’s own complete negation in the expression of atheism ! Tranquility, renunciation and contentment are so defining that it is believed, best Hindu is the one who happens to be least Hindu !! These are some of the attributes that baffle even well-informed ones about Hinduism. Counterpart of Abraham in Jewish / Christian faiths and Ibrahim in Islam, Param Brahmatma is the Supreme Absolute who holds the fort for all Sanatana followers as the Ultimate Being from whom all other entities, animate as well inanimate, originate. If they mean to address the same Absolute Entity, Param Brahmatma as Abraham and Ibrahim respectively, so be that.
Sanatana Hinduism is the most ancient faith, is an axiom that is impregnable. Also the fact that every human being is born a Hindu, thereafter only anointed as Sanatana Hindu, Christian or Muslim by virtue of well-appointed religious practices. It is a faith that never had rigid geographical boundaries for centuries. It is the civilizational / cultural /ethnic identity that defined Hindu Rastra i.e. nation within which political boundaries were hazy and transitional. It may be declared with emphasis that Hindu Rastra always existed while country / countries existed in the form of kingdoms. It is at it’s best on display during Mahakumbha when all ‘countries’ come together on a designated celestial occasion to assert Sanatana Hindu Rastra.
When Buddhism and Jainism appeared to be gaining an upper hand owing to several factors one of which being absence of assertiveness among Hindu-s, Adi Samkaracarya raised four Mutt-s i.e.high seats of learning and practice of Sanatana Vedanta in four distant corners of the nation. Saffron i.e. colour of flame was ordained for Hindu monks to remind them incessantly, they are akin to the fire that blazes, annihilates all possessions for others. Also, they are ordained to find themselves lying on their pyre unflinchingly, to incinerate their unredeemed Karma-s, Samskara-s thereof and to ensure, no more Samskara-s are added afresh. Another organisation that Adi Samkaracarya raised was Akhara-s which imparted martial arts with the purpose to defend Hinduism against any aggression. Akhara is the modified version of Aksara which means indestructible. Thus, mission statement was amply conveyed through the choice of title itself of these establishments. Seven Akhara-s happen to be Avahana, Atala, Mahanirvani, Ananda, Niranjani, Juna and Agni. In due course, owing to sharp differences among followers, Vaisnava Acarya-s Ramananda, Ramanuja and Vallabha raised Digambara, Nirvani and Nirmohi Akhara-s respectively for Vaisnavite-s.
Sri Chandra, Son of Guru Nanaka Deva aspired to succeed his illustrious father. When Bhai Lehna succeeded him as Guru Angada, Sri Chandra was deeply disappointed, founded Udasina sect with the main mission to cultivate indifference towards all possessions. However, Udasina sect was not accepted by main Sikh Pantha while they were warmly accepted by Hinduism. Later, when Udasina fractionated into three sects of Bada-, Naya– and Nirmal–Udasina, total number of Akhara-s went up to 13. Total number of Akhara-s has remained constant since then. These Akhara-s have been organising Mahakumbha-s all these years.
Earliest description of Mahakumbha is available in the 17 year travelogue, from 629 to 645 CE of Chinese traveller Huan Tsang. He travelled across the country and inscribed details of the grand festival. Mahakumbha is held at four locations in the country with those being Haridwara, Prayaga, Nashika and Ujjaina. Concept of Mahakumbha is woven around an event narrated in Bhagavat Purana. During the chase and tussle to catch hold of Amrit–Kalasa i.e. Pot of Ambrosia / Nectar capable of bestowing immortality, between Sura-s i.e. celestial deities and Asura-s i.e. celestial Dasyu-s, few drops spilled over and fell on the ground at those four locations followed by Mahakumbha being organised periodically. Mahakumbha is an elaborate divine message for all of us to allow all higher instincts within us to rise over lower / carnal instincts and purify ourselves symbolically by washing ourselves in the holy waters on auspicious days like Vasanta Pancami etc. It is with that pious intent that a certain celestial / planetary configuration was selected by our ancients which is maximally facilitative / supportive to the purpose in terms of divine energy. Simhastha Kumbha in Ujjaina is held when Jupitar enters into Leo’s constellation and Sun into Aries of the Zodiac. Kumbha is held at Haridwara when Jupiter enters into Aquarius while Sun into Aries. It is organised at Prayaga when Jupiter enters into Aries while Sun and Moon into Capricorn. Nashika is the festival site when Jupiter enters into Leo. Thus, emerged the 12 year cycle to hold Mahakumbha, not only for Adhyatmika self-elevation but also a sacrosanct festive occasion for all Sadhu-s / Sannyasi-s to congregate and deliberate over related issues of faith, society, nation etc. It is also a grand occasion for common folks to inter-mingle with ascetics / renunciates from all over and rejuvenate themselves spiritually. It is one of the ancient ways of inspiring us periodically for the highest mission of human life while dwelling in the midst of all vanities and venalities. Undergoing trials and tribulations during cosmic journey from I-centrism to U-Centrism with a few dips in holy waters, spiritual enrichment in company of Sannyasi-s, unmitigated dedication unto all constituents of infinite cosmos…are truly extra-ordinary experiences.
Some 120 million pilgrims visited Prayaga Kumbha in 2013 over a period of a couple of months while some 50 million are expected in Ujjaina Kumbha 2016. Such a huge scale of congregation is enough to mesmerise the whole world. Mark Twain was precise when he commented, “It is done in love or done in fear, I do not know…no matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination.”