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Books > Hindu > Kumbh - Mahakumbh (Mythological, Spiritual and Practical)
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Kumbh - Mahakumbh (Mythological, Spiritual and Practical)
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Kumbh - Mahakumbh (Mythological, Spiritual and Practical)
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About the Book

In the Ocean of the mind Positive and Negative energies constantly aspire to overcome each other. Sometimes the Positives energies win, at other times they lose to the strong Negative impulses. Such is the Nature of the Human mind, that this churning is inevitable and must go on for each Mind to evolve, and for mortals to find a meaningful existence by relating to a Timeless dimension spirituality and mentally.

The need to control the mind becomes apparent to the Spiritual seeker. Under the direction of a Guru Steeped in tradition, this churning itself may be an end in itself and produce innumerable gams of fortitude and bliss. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual progress. This rituals immersion in the memory of the churning has to be remembered periodically, in a moment that uses Time to transcend time. That is the secret of the Kumbh- Mahakumbh ‘melas’ in India, where millions gather at the appointed Space and Time, to rejuvenate their Selves with a few drops of Spiritual Ambrosia.

The authors Misra, Tripathi and Lahiri elaborate these varied aspects of an age old event that occurs regularly in India, i.e. The Kumbh Mela, known as the largest human gathering that takes place at regular intervals. Apart from all the logistics and paraphernalia invoved, it epitomizes the ability of the Human Spirit to use the Mind as an instrument to overcome the boundaries of mundane and mortal existence and evolve into a timeless dimension of Spiritual Seeking. The story behind the event exists in popular mythology and is known even in Japan, China and specially in South east Asian countries, but nowhere else has the popular mind been attracted for generations to four spots at preordained times related to the myth, in order to relive the myth and thereby rejuvenate it and themselves.

About the Author

Dr Ratna Lahiri studied for her Ph.D on Human Values in Modem Hindi Literature (1982) under the guidance of the Late Professor Vidyaniwas Misra and subsequently taught Hindi Language and Literature at the University of Delhi. Her deep interest in Ancient indian cultural Values and Indian Literature is reflected in her contributions to various Encyclopedias, beginning with the Encyclopedia of Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi). Subsequently she worked at the Department of Religious Studies, Columbia, University of South Carolina, for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism (IHRF) followed by translation cum summarizing assistance at the University of Washington in Seattle, for some volumes of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy (Kari Potter). Dr. Lahiri has taught Indian Studies at the Asian Center in the University of Philippines in Metro Manila, and presented many papers at various international and National conferences. As a Fellow of the Indian School pf Advanced Study, Shimla, she has published her seminal research work Philippini Ramkathayein: Bharatiya Sandarbh, translating the Maranao versions of the Rama story in the oral traditions of the lake Lanao region of the southern island of Mindanao. Her work on this Islamic Ramayana also presents original research in Hindi regarding the ancient Indo- Philippine interaction. She also edited and translated a beautiful production of Vidyaniwas Mishra's book in English "The Hindu Way: A Search for the eternal", published by Shubi.

The Late Vidya Niwas Mishra (1926-2005) was a scholar, savant and a noted Hindi-Sanskrit litterateur from the Allahabad University and a disciple of the learned professor Kshetreshchandra Chattopadhyaya. After working on the Hindi dictionary under the direction of the legendary scholar Rahul Sankrityayan, he himself became a legendary scholar as his erudition was honored at various universities in India and abroad. He was a visiting Professor at the California and Washington universities, and Director of the Kulapati Munshi Hindi Vidyapeeth, Agra. He was also Vice- Chancellor of the Kashi Vidyapeeth and the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. For many years, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the leading Hindi daily Navbharat Times. He authored, edited and translated over hundred books in Hindi and English. He also edited several journals and magazines. A Master of the lalitnibandh genre, he was a popular orator for cultural as well as scholarly occasions. For his invaluable services in the field of literature, he was decorated first with Padma Shri and later with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. He was the recipient of the prestigious Moortidevi Award instituted by the Bharatiya Jnanpeeth, one of the highest for the literary genre he excelled in. A senior member of the Sahitya Akademi, he was the guiding spirit of many a literary and social organization. He was closely associated with the Encyclopedia of Hinduism and the Hindi monthly Sahitya Amrit. He was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.

Dr. Ramnaresh Tripathi Jyotish Shiromani, Founder Director & Chairman of the International Organization of Astrology and Vedic Sciences. Prachya Vidya Jyotish Adhyayan Evam Anusandhan Sansthan, Allahabad Born in 1947, Dr. Tripathi is not only a renowned Journalist and an eminent Astrologer, but also a leading scholar of India, who holds Double Masters in Economics and Acharya along with a D Phil in Economics from the University of Allahabad. His works on Yogi Samrat Devraha Baba, are seminal works on those who wish to research or progress in the field of inner Yoga. He has also co-authored and edited several other books on Adi Shankaracharya, Indian culture, and mythology in English, Hindi and Sanskrit.

Dr. Tripathi published the Astrological weekly, Jyotish Prakash in 1997 and established Prachaya Vidya Jyotish Adhayan Evam Anusandhan Sansthan in 1998. He has numerous prizes and awards to his credit like the Jyotish Vachaspati by Indian Council of Astrological Sciences in 2008, Jyotish Ratna by Indian Council of Astrological sciences in 2004, Jyotish Shiromani by International Organization of Astrology and Vedic Sciences in 2004, Jyotish Mahrishi by Bhartiya Jyotish Peeth, Lucknow in 2000, Raj Jyotishi, Bhartiya Jyotish Parishad, Kanpur in 2000, & International Award by America and Canada Hindi Samiti, He is currently working with the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, as Director of Astrology Department in Allahabad. Recently he has been appointed as a Visiting Professor at the Hindu University in Florida.

Prologue

Drops of Amrita
The Sanskrit word Samudra Manthan literally means a churning of the Oceans- in this case the Ocean of Milk (Ksheer Sagar). The word manthana, also implies studied churning of the mind, specially of a deeper state of concentration, in order to analyze and weigh the pros and cons of the problem and to find appropriate solutions. Such is the Churning of this Ocean of Milk that it yields many other gems in the search for the ultimate pot of Nectar- the final solution to the problem. The symbology in detail will be apparent in later chapters.

The story in short, goes thus. The demigods or devatas in heaven had lost their strength and luster due to a curse. The purpose was to regain their lost strength and to gain immortality. This had to be done with the help of the danavas, their cousins and sworn enemies. After acquiring the pot of ambrosia, the danavas had to be exempted from partaking the ambrosia, otherwise the natural order of good winning over evil would be disturbed. This, of course, led to the war, the pernnial devasur sangram. Vishnu comes as Mohini to help in the distribution of the amrita that arose out of the ocean. It may seem a bit unfair that the Asuras were denied the fruit of the labor that was undertaken by the suras (gods) and asuras together. However, from the very beginning of the project, the Asuras were not intended to be energized with ambrosia, as it would be too dangerous to let the power of immortality strengthen their demoniac tendencies any further. Vishnu had promised he would make sure they did not get it, for the ultimate good of humanity. So as Mohini he cheated the Asuras from getting any amrita.

Jayanta, the son of Indra finally runs with the pot with the danavas in hot pursuit. Drops of this life giving amrita fall at four holy 'places on the land of Bharatvarsha, namely, Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. These are the places where the Kumbh and Mahakumbh melas or gatherings are held, to rejuvenate the people, and periodically remind the population of the great event that took place in primordial Time. One day of the gods equal twelve human years, so the Poorna Kumbh is held once in twelve years, when the stars and planets align in the same way.

This is one of the most important stories of Indian Mythology, and can be found in most of the important traditional texts, the Puranas and epics. It will be elaborated in detail in the forthcoming chapters. The symbology is elaborate, but the story itself immensely interesting with unexpected twists and turns, and hence the appeal to one and all. Children love to listen to the story again and again. Later, hopefully, it will dawn on them that the entire episode is full of innuendoes and deeper meanings to be meditated upon, maybe even leading to attitudinal changes and solutions.

This churning itself may be an end in itself since it produces innumerable gems of material and spiritual bliss. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual progress. The gems will go to the deserving one, so the churning must be done under the direction of a Guru steeped in tradition. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual as well as material progress. Spiritual, indicated by the ultimate prize, Amrita, or the elixir of Life. Material, implied by all the wish fulfilling gems of great worth that emerge from this Ocean, including Sri Laxmi, the goddess of every kind of Wealth.

However, this will not be easy in the beginning; a lot of toil and trouble will also yield Kalakoota, a -devastating poison which no one can tolerate. Only Shiva, or by becoming like Shiva, can one drink this poison thus, some great self sacrifices need to be made for the greater good, in a great project. Shiva's magnanimous gesture of drinking up the poison for the greater good, solves the problem of the obnoxious fumes of the poison. It is told that Parvati the consort of Shiva, by touching his throat to keep the poison at bay there, saved Siva a lot of pain. Shiva's throat then turned blue with the poison, so this act made Shiva known as Neelkanth- the One with the blue throat. The role of his wife, a man's Shakti, is therefore of great importance on the way to successful achievement. Also important is the cooperation of powers that be, like Vishnu and Shiva, who preserve and destroy, to ensure that nature itself would help. They are the enablers of the Natural law. Trees and herbs that fall into the milk add to the medicinal value of this elixir of Life, thereby emphasizing the importance of ecological values and Natural medicine. The god of Ayurveda himself rises with the elixir of Life, implying the Natural way of life is the best prescription to good health. Thus layers and layers of meaning are enshrined in this myth. They ultimately unfold itself to the thinking mind as one goes deeper into the characters, otherwise serving the purpose of a most interesting story, leading to the ritual origins of the Kumbh Melas. Like almost every ritual in the Hindu way, the deeper meanings mayor may not be sought by the performer, but all in all it is an unique departure from the mundane, transporting the pilgrims to another dimension of experience altogether, and thereby rejuvenating them physically, mentally and spiritually.

Many questions arise when the story is recounted. Why did the Devas cheat the Asuras resulting in the fierce fight and how did the nectar spill on earth to commemorate the event forever? Who were Rahu and Ketu and why were they dismembered? What was the triad of Brahrna, Vishnu and Shiva doing and what was their role in guiding these events? Why is the cyclical celebration of the event according to zodiacal 'time? How come the numbers that attend the Kumbh bathing festivals on the scheduled timings, keep increasing every year? All this and more will be indicated in the forthcoming pages.

It has always been a source of wonderment to historians and travelers alike as to how this huge congregation of people takes place in ever increasing numbers, thereby becoming the world's largest religious gathering. Mega cities appear and disappear like magic to enable this celebration, with thousands of devotees converging from the length and breadth of India, and now even from abroad, to take a ritual bath. No one can predict exactly how many will attend, because no invites are send and no rsvp's received. Arrangements need to be made by respective local governments for about a hundred million people needing housing, sanitation and food for a length of Time. People come and go, and on appointed 'auspicious days' the traffic arrangements themselves are a nightmare.

A study group from Harvard Busines School went to Prayag to observe the formal and informal structures that spawn across the temporary Megacity that erupts in accordance with a particular stellar configuration. They were amazed to see the large section of humanity from cities and villages alike, congregating just to take a ritual bath. So impressed were they with the order within the chaos, that they initiated Project KF27 to monitor and find innovative ways to bring technology to the aid of the various areas of health, transportation and other civic issues that arise in the temporary cities that spring up in these four places where these drops of nectar are said to have fallen.

It is obvious that what actually happens is an intangible experience for some that deserves study, though it may not be statistically quantified in terms of the deep emotions involved. However there is much scope for improvement in the technological aids that could be provided and the massive transport arrangements that need to be made all over India. In a congregation of this sort the simple villagers could be and even are, exploited by various charlatans, and the small town dweller will be wary of the known and unknown pitfalls. However, the average Indian is prepared to take it in his stride because in his mind even the ritual gains overweigh the pecuniary losses. They come in hordes, and more and more spectators come because it leads to an understanding of India and the Indian ethos. The deeper implications mayor may not be obvious and for many it may just 'seem like a meaningless ritual, but it is still an experience of a Lifetime.

Some say this really was once a cattle fair, or a business cum tourism opportunity, engineered in the Indian style with a strong spiritual veneer. For some it is an opportunity to observe real holy men or even the devious ways of charlatans, or what have you. Actually it is all this and much more. It is a world in itself, springing up and disappearing in zodiacal Time. For the culturally curious and the observant casual visitor alike, a documenting of the almost yearly Melas that take place by turns at Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain, and now Kumbakonam, ultimately becomes a study in the tremendous capacity of a large portion of mankind to live by Faith and ritual.

The venue, dates and timings of forthcoming Kumbh are known and calculated precisely by astrologers.

When the Sun is in the Makar rashi or Capricorn, it begins in Prayag, the confluence of the holy rive ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. When in Leo, it is called Sinhasta, and occurs at Nasik and or Ujjain and one day in Kumbakonam in the South. Thus it is sometimes in January- February, and sometimes in April May, but always while the Sun is in the northward or Uttarayana phase, between January 15 and July 16. The event occurs by turns in the four cities specified in medieval texts. The specific bathing dates are also calculated by astrologers and posted or spread by word of mouth to the pilgrims.

Nowadays the latest electronic gadgets are used in the cities that spring up, the latest in managerial skills can be tested as the crowds get larger and larger. Urban planners and traffic experts organize railroad and city traffic to dovetail into their arrangements, but the focus remains always on the ritual baths, the traditional sects that congregate and most of all, on the crowds that come in hordes to have a dip in the sacred waters that they believe will surely help their ancestors and themselves alike. The reason they congregate is elaborately described as a mythological tale in the Hindu traditional texts known as the Puranas, of which some major texts and translations have been excerpted in the later sections of this book.

It is believed that the stellar configurations that were prevailing at the time, and the stellar bodies that were in charge of watching over the path of the pot of nectar, were witness to the original event. Remembering it, they become instrumental in charging those same places and waters with special spiritual vibrations, when those very same configurations occur in the firmament. It all began thereafter as a momentous recurring window in Time. Whenever the same stellar configuration occurs at these points, it is believed that the places and waters get energized with the same positive vibrations that occurred before. Thousands gather to soak in these vibrations, and have a dip in these waters. After all, the Sun, Jupiter the guru of the gods, arid those configurations of Capricorn and Leo etc are still there, and converge over the same areas even today. Water as an element is supposed to imbibe vibrations very easily as has been proven by some recent studies. The holy banks of the sacred rivers that flow in these areas, namely, the Ganga, Godavari and Shipra, and other water-bodies like the Ramakunda, were a silent witness to it then and continue to get charged by the same stellar configurations now as if to endorse the order that prevails in the Universe. In the Mahamaham tank in southern Kumbakonam, the story also relates to a pot, but it is a one day bath with another story, and happens also when the Sun enters Leo once in twelve years. Even as the stars and galaxies move around the firmament in a prescribed order, without clashing, and even as the aberrations or comets that take place, can be predetermined by astronomical calculations, the order of the Universe reigns Supreme. So also this Kumbh will happen, in the prescribed and predetermined Time and Place again and again.

So the manthan drops fell over the sacred places and sacred rivers in Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain, but the quarrel over the pot continued and in later times once again, Garuda the mythical bird was also instrumental in dropping a few drops here and there, but then that is a different story altogether. The essay by famous astrologer- scholar Ramnaresh Tripathi, describes how other areas in India, like Vrindavana and Kumbakonam in the south, also celebrate Kumbh at certain times.

For the stories about the four primarily named cities, there are many versions too. Some say the pitcher containing the ambrosia was kept for a 3while in these places by Jayanta. Others say the son of Indra was fleeing with the vessel, with the asuras in hot pursuit, so some drops fell. Whatever the versions, there is no denying that with travel and communications becoming easier by the years, more and more people converge to these places to take a dip in the waters during those auspicious stellar configurations that occur periodically. One day of the gods is considered to be equal to one year of the humans and so the Mahakumbh takes place only once in twelve years. Similar astrological conditions give rise to the Ardh Kumbh once in six years and are celebrated only at Haridwar and Prayag, at the banks of the perennially holy river Ganga.

Contents

Prologue 9
Pilgrimage Centres and Festivals 27  
The Astrological Implications of the Kumbh Mela 51  
Experiencing Sacred Space and Sacred Time 81  
The Major Puranas On the Different Versions of the Story 99  
Mythological associations: Dramatis Personae of the Story of the Churning 133  

Sample Pages










Kumbh - Mahakumbh (Mythological, Spiritual and Practical)

Item Code:
NAN071
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2016
ISBN:
9788182903883
Language:
English
Size:
9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Pages:
176 (44 Color and 9 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 475 gms
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About the Book

In the Ocean of the mind Positive and Negative energies constantly aspire to overcome each other. Sometimes the Positives energies win, at other times they lose to the strong Negative impulses. Such is the Nature of the Human mind, that this churning is inevitable and must go on for each Mind to evolve, and for mortals to find a meaningful existence by relating to a Timeless dimension spirituality and mentally.

The need to control the mind becomes apparent to the Spiritual seeker. Under the direction of a Guru Steeped in tradition, this churning itself may be an end in itself and produce innumerable gams of fortitude and bliss. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual progress. This rituals immersion in the memory of the churning has to be remembered periodically, in a moment that uses Time to transcend time. That is the secret of the Kumbh- Mahakumbh ‘melas’ in India, where millions gather at the appointed Space and Time, to rejuvenate their Selves with a few drops of Spiritual Ambrosia.

The authors Misra, Tripathi and Lahiri elaborate these varied aspects of an age old event that occurs regularly in India, i.e. The Kumbh Mela, known as the largest human gathering that takes place at regular intervals. Apart from all the logistics and paraphernalia invoved, it epitomizes the ability of the Human Spirit to use the Mind as an instrument to overcome the boundaries of mundane and mortal existence and evolve into a timeless dimension of Spiritual Seeking. The story behind the event exists in popular mythology and is known even in Japan, China and specially in South east Asian countries, but nowhere else has the popular mind been attracted for generations to four spots at preordained times related to the myth, in order to relive the myth and thereby rejuvenate it and themselves.

About the Author

Dr Ratna Lahiri studied for her Ph.D on Human Values in Modem Hindi Literature (1982) under the guidance of the Late Professor Vidyaniwas Misra and subsequently taught Hindi Language and Literature at the University of Delhi. Her deep interest in Ancient indian cultural Values and Indian Literature is reflected in her contributions to various Encyclopedias, beginning with the Encyclopedia of Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi). Subsequently she worked at the Department of Religious Studies, Columbia, University of South Carolina, for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism (IHRF) followed by translation cum summarizing assistance at the University of Washington in Seattle, for some volumes of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy (Kari Potter). Dr. Lahiri has taught Indian Studies at the Asian Center in the University of Philippines in Metro Manila, and presented many papers at various international and National conferences. As a Fellow of the Indian School pf Advanced Study, Shimla, she has published her seminal research work Philippini Ramkathayein: Bharatiya Sandarbh, translating the Maranao versions of the Rama story in the oral traditions of the lake Lanao region of the southern island of Mindanao. Her work on this Islamic Ramayana also presents original research in Hindi regarding the ancient Indo- Philippine interaction. She also edited and translated a beautiful production of Vidyaniwas Mishra's book in English "The Hindu Way: A Search for the eternal", published by Shubi.

The Late Vidya Niwas Mishra (1926-2005) was a scholar, savant and a noted Hindi-Sanskrit litterateur from the Allahabad University and a disciple of the learned professor Kshetreshchandra Chattopadhyaya. After working on the Hindi dictionary under the direction of the legendary scholar Rahul Sankrityayan, he himself became a legendary scholar as his erudition was honored at various universities in India and abroad. He was a visiting Professor at the California and Washington universities, and Director of the Kulapati Munshi Hindi Vidyapeeth, Agra. He was also Vice- Chancellor of the Kashi Vidyapeeth and the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. For many years, he was the Editor-in-Chief of the leading Hindi daily Navbharat Times. He authored, edited and translated over hundred books in Hindi and English. He also edited several journals and magazines. A Master of the lalitnibandh genre, he was a popular orator for cultural as well as scholarly occasions. For his invaluable services in the field of literature, he was decorated first with Padma Shri and later with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India. He was the recipient of the prestigious Moortidevi Award instituted by the Bharatiya Jnanpeeth, one of the highest for the literary genre he excelled in. A senior member of the Sahitya Akademi, he was the guiding spirit of many a literary and social organization. He was closely associated with the Encyclopedia of Hinduism and the Hindi monthly Sahitya Amrit. He was a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha.

Dr. Ramnaresh Tripathi Jyotish Shiromani, Founder Director & Chairman of the International Organization of Astrology and Vedic Sciences. Prachya Vidya Jyotish Adhyayan Evam Anusandhan Sansthan, Allahabad Born in 1947, Dr. Tripathi is not only a renowned Journalist and an eminent Astrologer, but also a leading scholar of India, who holds Double Masters in Economics and Acharya along with a D Phil in Economics from the University of Allahabad. His works on Yogi Samrat Devraha Baba, are seminal works on those who wish to research or progress in the field of inner Yoga. He has also co-authored and edited several other books on Adi Shankaracharya, Indian culture, and mythology in English, Hindi and Sanskrit.

Dr. Tripathi published the Astrological weekly, Jyotish Prakash in 1997 and established Prachaya Vidya Jyotish Adhayan Evam Anusandhan Sansthan in 1998. He has numerous prizes and awards to his credit like the Jyotish Vachaspati by Indian Council of Astrological Sciences in 2008, Jyotish Ratna by Indian Council of Astrological sciences in 2004, Jyotish Shiromani by International Organization of Astrology and Vedic Sciences in 2004, Jyotish Mahrishi by Bhartiya Jyotish Peeth, Lucknow in 2000, Raj Jyotishi, Bhartiya Jyotish Parishad, Kanpur in 2000, & International Award by America and Canada Hindi Samiti, He is currently working with the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, as Director of Astrology Department in Allahabad. Recently he has been appointed as a Visiting Professor at the Hindu University in Florida.

Prologue

Drops of Amrita
The Sanskrit word Samudra Manthan literally means a churning of the Oceans- in this case the Ocean of Milk (Ksheer Sagar). The word manthana, also implies studied churning of the mind, specially of a deeper state of concentration, in order to analyze and weigh the pros and cons of the problem and to find appropriate solutions. Such is the Churning of this Ocean of Milk that it yields many other gems in the search for the ultimate pot of Nectar- the final solution to the problem. The symbology in detail will be apparent in later chapters.

The story in short, goes thus. The demigods or devatas in heaven had lost their strength and luster due to a curse. The purpose was to regain their lost strength and to gain immortality. This had to be done with the help of the danavas, their cousins and sworn enemies. After acquiring the pot of ambrosia, the danavas had to be exempted from partaking the ambrosia, otherwise the natural order of good winning over evil would be disturbed. This, of course, led to the war, the pernnial devasur sangram. Vishnu comes as Mohini to help in the distribution of the amrita that arose out of the ocean. It may seem a bit unfair that the Asuras were denied the fruit of the labor that was undertaken by the suras (gods) and asuras together. However, from the very beginning of the project, the Asuras were not intended to be energized with ambrosia, as it would be too dangerous to let the power of immortality strengthen their demoniac tendencies any further. Vishnu had promised he would make sure they did not get it, for the ultimate good of humanity. So as Mohini he cheated the Asuras from getting any amrita.

Jayanta, the son of Indra finally runs with the pot with the danavas in hot pursuit. Drops of this life giving amrita fall at four holy 'places on the land of Bharatvarsha, namely, Prayag, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. These are the places where the Kumbh and Mahakumbh melas or gatherings are held, to rejuvenate the people, and periodically remind the population of the great event that took place in primordial Time. One day of the gods equal twelve human years, so the Poorna Kumbh is held once in twelve years, when the stars and planets align in the same way.

This is one of the most important stories of Indian Mythology, and can be found in most of the important traditional texts, the Puranas and epics. It will be elaborated in detail in the forthcoming chapters. The symbology is elaborate, but the story itself immensely interesting with unexpected twists and turns, and hence the appeal to one and all. Children love to listen to the story again and again. Later, hopefully, it will dawn on them that the entire episode is full of innuendoes and deeper meanings to be meditated upon, maybe even leading to attitudinal changes and solutions.

This churning itself may be an end in itself since it produces innumerable gems of material and spiritual bliss. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual progress. The gems will go to the deserving one, so the churning must be done under the direction of a Guru steeped in tradition. They will be gems of great worth that will hold the traveler in good stead on the path of Spiritual as well as material progress. Spiritual, indicated by the ultimate prize, Amrita, or the elixir of Life. Material, implied by all the wish fulfilling gems of great worth that emerge from this Ocean, including Sri Laxmi, the goddess of every kind of Wealth.

However, this will not be easy in the beginning; a lot of toil and trouble will also yield Kalakoota, a -devastating poison which no one can tolerate. Only Shiva, or by becoming like Shiva, can one drink this poison thus, some great self sacrifices need to be made for the greater good, in a great project. Shiva's magnanimous gesture of drinking up the poison for the greater good, solves the problem of the obnoxious fumes of the poison. It is told that Parvati the consort of Shiva, by touching his throat to keep the poison at bay there, saved Siva a lot of pain. Shiva's throat then turned blue with the poison, so this act made Shiva known as Neelkanth- the One with the blue throat. The role of his wife, a man's Shakti, is therefore of great importance on the way to successful achievement. Also important is the cooperation of powers that be, like Vishnu and Shiva, who preserve and destroy, to ensure that nature itself would help. They are the enablers of the Natural law. Trees and herbs that fall into the milk add to the medicinal value of this elixir of Life, thereby emphasizing the importance of ecological values and Natural medicine. The god of Ayurveda himself rises with the elixir of Life, implying the Natural way of life is the best prescription to good health. Thus layers and layers of meaning are enshrined in this myth. They ultimately unfold itself to the thinking mind as one goes deeper into the characters, otherwise serving the purpose of a most interesting story, leading to the ritual origins of the Kumbh Melas. Like almost every ritual in the Hindu way, the deeper meanings mayor may not be sought by the performer, but all in all it is an unique departure from the mundane, transporting the pilgrims to another dimension of experience altogether, and thereby rejuvenating them physically, mentally and spiritually.

Many questions arise when the story is recounted. Why did the Devas cheat the Asuras resulting in the fierce fight and how did the nectar spill on earth to commemorate the event forever? Who were Rahu and Ketu and why were they dismembered? What was the triad of Brahrna, Vishnu and Shiva doing and what was their role in guiding these events? Why is the cyclical celebration of the event according to zodiacal 'time? How come the numbers that attend the Kumbh bathing festivals on the scheduled timings, keep increasing every year? All this and more will be indicated in the forthcoming pages.

It has always been a source of wonderment to historians and travelers alike as to how this huge congregation of people takes place in ever increasing numbers, thereby becoming the world's largest religious gathering. Mega cities appear and disappear like magic to enable this celebration, with thousands of devotees converging from the length and breadth of India, and now even from abroad, to take a ritual bath. No one can predict exactly how many will attend, because no invites are send and no rsvp's received. Arrangements need to be made by respective local governments for about a hundred million people needing housing, sanitation and food for a length of Time. People come and go, and on appointed 'auspicious days' the traffic arrangements themselves are a nightmare.

A study group from Harvard Busines School went to Prayag to observe the formal and informal structures that spawn across the temporary Megacity that erupts in accordance with a particular stellar configuration. They were amazed to see the large section of humanity from cities and villages alike, congregating just to take a ritual bath. So impressed were they with the order within the chaos, that they initiated Project KF27 to monitor and find innovative ways to bring technology to the aid of the various areas of health, transportation and other civic issues that arise in the temporary cities that spring up in these four places where these drops of nectar are said to have fallen.

It is obvious that what actually happens is an intangible experience for some that deserves study, though it may not be statistically quantified in terms of the deep emotions involved. However there is much scope for improvement in the technological aids that could be provided and the massive transport arrangements that need to be made all over India. In a congregation of this sort the simple villagers could be and even are, exploited by various charlatans, and the small town dweller will be wary of the known and unknown pitfalls. However, the average Indian is prepared to take it in his stride because in his mind even the ritual gains overweigh the pecuniary losses. They come in hordes, and more and more spectators come because it leads to an understanding of India and the Indian ethos. The deeper implications mayor may not be obvious and for many it may just 'seem like a meaningless ritual, but it is still an experience of a Lifetime.

Some say this really was once a cattle fair, or a business cum tourism opportunity, engineered in the Indian style with a strong spiritual veneer. For some it is an opportunity to observe real holy men or even the devious ways of charlatans, or what have you. Actually it is all this and much more. It is a world in itself, springing up and disappearing in zodiacal Time. For the culturally curious and the observant casual visitor alike, a documenting of the almost yearly Melas that take place by turns at Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain, and now Kumbakonam, ultimately becomes a study in the tremendous capacity of a large portion of mankind to live by Faith and ritual.

The venue, dates and timings of forthcoming Kumbh are known and calculated precisely by astrologers.

When the Sun is in the Makar rashi or Capricorn, it begins in Prayag, the confluence of the holy rive ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. When in Leo, it is called Sinhasta, and occurs at Nasik and or Ujjain and one day in Kumbakonam in the South. Thus it is sometimes in January- February, and sometimes in April May, but always while the Sun is in the northward or Uttarayana phase, between January 15 and July 16. The event occurs by turns in the four cities specified in medieval texts. The specific bathing dates are also calculated by astrologers and posted or spread by word of mouth to the pilgrims.

Nowadays the latest electronic gadgets are used in the cities that spring up, the latest in managerial skills can be tested as the crowds get larger and larger. Urban planners and traffic experts organize railroad and city traffic to dovetail into their arrangements, but the focus remains always on the ritual baths, the traditional sects that congregate and most of all, on the crowds that come in hordes to have a dip in the sacred waters that they believe will surely help their ancestors and themselves alike. The reason they congregate is elaborately described as a mythological tale in the Hindu traditional texts known as the Puranas, of which some major texts and translations have been excerpted in the later sections of this book.

It is believed that the stellar configurations that were prevailing at the time, and the stellar bodies that were in charge of watching over the path of the pot of nectar, were witness to the original event. Remembering it, they become instrumental in charging those same places and waters with special spiritual vibrations, when those very same configurations occur in the firmament. It all began thereafter as a momentous recurring window in Time. Whenever the same stellar configuration occurs at these points, it is believed that the places and waters get energized with the same positive vibrations that occurred before. Thousands gather to soak in these vibrations, and have a dip in these waters. After all, the Sun, Jupiter the guru of the gods, arid those configurations of Capricorn and Leo etc are still there, and converge over the same areas even today. Water as an element is supposed to imbibe vibrations very easily as has been proven by some recent studies. The holy banks of the sacred rivers that flow in these areas, namely, the Ganga, Godavari and Shipra, and other water-bodies like the Ramakunda, were a silent witness to it then and continue to get charged by the same stellar configurations now as if to endorse the order that prevails in the Universe. In the Mahamaham tank in southern Kumbakonam, the story also relates to a pot, but it is a one day bath with another story, and happens also when the Sun enters Leo once in twelve years. Even as the stars and galaxies move around the firmament in a prescribed order, without clashing, and even as the aberrations or comets that take place, can be predetermined by astronomical calculations, the order of the Universe reigns Supreme. So also this Kumbh will happen, in the prescribed and predetermined Time and Place again and again.

So the manthan drops fell over the sacred places and sacred rivers in Prayag, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain, but the quarrel over the pot continued and in later times once again, Garuda the mythical bird was also instrumental in dropping a few drops here and there, but then that is a different story altogether. The essay by famous astrologer- scholar Ramnaresh Tripathi, describes how other areas in India, like Vrindavana and Kumbakonam in the south, also celebrate Kumbh at certain times.

For the stories about the four primarily named cities, there are many versions too. Some say the pitcher containing the ambrosia was kept for a 3while in these places by Jayanta. Others say the son of Indra was fleeing with the vessel, with the asuras in hot pursuit, so some drops fell. Whatever the versions, there is no denying that with travel and communications becoming easier by the years, more and more people converge to these places to take a dip in the waters during those auspicious stellar configurations that occur periodically. One day of the gods is considered to be equal to one year of the humans and so the Mahakumbh takes place only once in twelve years. Similar astrological conditions give rise to the Ardh Kumbh once in six years and are celebrated only at Haridwar and Prayag, at the banks of the perennially holy river Ganga.

Contents

Prologue 9
Pilgrimage Centres and Festivals 27  
The Astrological Implications of the Kumbh Mela 51  
Experiencing Sacred Space and Sacred Time 81  
The Major Puranas On the Different Versions of the Story 99  
Mythological associations: Dramatis Personae of the Story of the Churning 133  

Sample Pages










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