Nashik Kumbh: In Search Of The Nectar Of Immortality!
“Madhu vātā ritāyate
Madhu ksharanti sindavah
Madhvīr nah santvoshadhīh
Madhu naktam utoshasi
Madhumat pārthivam rajah
Madhu dyaur astu nah pitā…”
May the winds blow like nectar
May the rivers flow sweetly,
May plants and herbs be nectar to us,
May night and morning also be heavenly,
May the dust of the earth be nectarous,
May the heavens be exalted…
Nashik is home town of best quality grapes. Its also the Wine Capital of India. Small wonder, Nashik has 40 world class wineries out of 74 in Maharashtra. While sweet and delightful aroma travels out of their big compounds, tastefully released into the air from all types of wine, red , white and pink…it’s really divine!
But, being also one of the holiest cities of India, on the bank of the river Godavari, Nashik is also a great religious centre, dotted with hundreds of ancient temples, ashrams, and hermitages. Its one of the four holy cities of India, where the mega religious event of Kumbh Mela is held, in rotation, after a gap of 12 years.
Mythological significance of Kumbh revolves around the story of the Samudra Manthana or Churning of the Ocean, which occurred in the celestial past, among the Gods and demons to procure the ‘Amrit’ or the nectar of immortality!
The mountain Mandar become churning rod and the Nagraj Vasuki, the King of Serpents, who abides on Shiva’s neck, became the churning rope. The Lord Vishnu himself took form of Kasava or tortoise and provided base for the mountain Mandar apprehending that it may get slipped and submerged in the ocean. The story is full of symbolism. The churning or ‘Manthana’ here is the churning of our minds to go deeper and deeper into our consciousness from where all powers and precious ideas arise. The demons here are our evil thoughts and negative qualities, the Gods symbolise our auspicious thoughts, benevolent and pristine qualities. The ocean is the consciousness, deep and vast in nature. This connects us with our infinite self! The procurement of Nectar eventually leads to attaining ‘ Amrit’ or immortality, opening us to Moksha, the ultimate liberation!
The Samudra Manthan released a number of things from the depth of the Ocean. The first to emerge was venom. It was so powerful that it could destroy all the creations. To save the universe, Lord Shiva consumed the poison. As a result, Shiva’s throat turned blue. Thus Lord Shiva has this epithet, Neelakantha (the blue-throated one).
Mahadevaaya Te Namaha.
(I pray to Lord Mahadeva who has conquered death, who is the destroyer of the universe, who has a blue neck and who gives happiness to all.)
The churning continued and emerged from the Ocean, Goddess Laksmi, the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth – who accepted Lord Vishnu as her eternal consort. Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world, worn by lord Vishnu. Kamdhenu, the divine cow – taken by Vishnu, and given to the sages for procuring milk and Ghee. Airavata, the celestial elephant, taken by Lord Indra, the King of the gods. Uchhaishrava, the 7-headed divine horse – given to the demons. At last, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with the pot or Kumbh, containing Amrit, the nectar of immortality. Fighting broke out between Gods and the Demons for getting hold of the Kumbh, full of nectar.
To protect nectar from the Demons, Garuda, the mount (Vahana) of the Lord Vishnu took the pot, and flew away from the battle-scene. While Garuda was carrying it all over, drops of nectar fell at four places – Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik.
This legend is the basis for the belief these drops of nectar gave immense mystical powers to these four places. People congregated at these four holy places to get share of that immortality within themselves. Kumbh Mela is celebrated in each of these four places, since time immemorial.
The Significance Of Kumbh
The Kumbh is the pitcher. Kumbh also symbolises the human body. covered with cells and tissues. The abdomen, the sea are synonyms of Kumbh. The sky is our mind which is boundless, the sun brings light in every creature, human, animals and the plants. It opens up the paths of knowledge and self discovery.
Kumbh as the congregation is the confluence of cultures. It is the eternal flow of humanity. It is the surge of rivers, human desires and devotion, an eternal meeting ground of knowledge and wisdom of the sages and saints. It is the intermingling influences and ingredients of life itself. It is the confluence of the vastness of nature and humanity.
In his book ‘Kumbha Mela: The World’s Largest Act of Faith’, Jack Hebner wrote: “The very foundation of my conception of life, the reality in which I lived, was shaken at its root. I was forced by circumstances to find a new identity within myself and adopt a completely new value system. My western values were not enough to deal with the profundity of the Kumbh Mela. What ensued was an unforgettable experience and a true understanding of the Kumbh Mela. I began to understand why millions of people attend the Kumbh Mela and I began to imbibe an inkling of their faith.”
Describing the Kumbh Mela Mark Twain wrote in 1895: “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvellous to our kind of people, the cold whites”.
Kumbh Across The Ages
The earliest references of the Kumbh have been found in the Rigveda (10/89/7), Vishnu Purana and Mahabharata.
The first written description of the Kumbh Mela is found in the accounts of Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang (602 – 664 A.D.) who visited India in 629 -645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhana.
King Harsha, who was a Shaivite by faith, began celebration of religious festival every five years, at the confluence of three rivers at Prayag. On this occasion Harsha used to donated all his personal belongings and wealth among the people and returned after a holy bath, only with his clothes on, to start life’s journey anew. Some believe that, it was the beginning of the historical Kumbh Mela. In the 8th century, Adi Shankara started celebrating the Kumbh Mela as a pan Indian festival. He had motivated saints and religious leaders from different sects and regions to take part in the Kumbh. With his initiation, the Saints and religious leaders from various parts of the country and different Sects, Schools and beliefs (Shakta, Shaiva, Vaishnava)started taking part as a religious confluence.
In the year 1515, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had come at Prayag at the holy Kumbh, all the way from Nadia, Bengal.
‘Udasi’ is an ascetic sect founded by Sri Chand (1494-1629), the elder son of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikh faith. The Udasis are an important sect with their presence at every Kumbh Mela.
The British policy in India was non intervention of Hindu or other Indian religious affairs. But, according to ‘The Imperial Gazetteer of India’, an outbreak of Cholera at the 1892 Kumbh Mela at Haridwar led to the vast improvement Mela arrangement by the authorities. British administration formed the Haridwar Improvement Society, which looked after the Haridwar Kumbh Melas thereafter, and in 1903, around 400,000 people attended the Haridwar Kumbh Mela, without any disturbance. During the 1954 Kumbh Mela stampede at Allahabad, around 800 people died , and hundreds were injured. Justice Kamala Kant Verma committee formed after the mishap and its recommendations became the basis of better management for future Kumbh Melas in the coming decades, the subsequent Kumbh Mela organisation remained event free thereafter, despite a few occasions.
The 2003 Kumbh Mela in Nashik was marred by a stampede, at Sardar Chowk, on the route of Shahi Marg (that leads from Tapovan to Ramkund in Godavari)in which 39 people were killed and over 100 injured. In 2010 Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, 7 people were killed and many injured in a stampede. In 2013, during Kumbh Mela, a stampede broke out at the train station in Allahabad, killing 36 people and injuring 40. This year, a big budget of Rs.2, 380 crore was sanctioned for all the arrangements. Nashik Police deployed 7,000 police personal, installed 348 CCTVs, set up 41 provisional police Chowkies added to regular police Chowkies, installed public address system with 1,700 loud speakers to supervise the situation and created mobile applications for the convenience of the devotees.
Today, followers of Buddhism , Sikhism Jainism, even from other religious beliefs from around the world take part. With equal fervour and zeal. Dalai Lama was at Nashik, during the Kumbh Mela festival.
In 2013, despite some internal protests, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) decided to participate in the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. According to “The Imperial Gazetteer of India, in 1903 about 400,000 people attended the fair at Haridwar. By 1977, the number of pilgrims attending Kumbh Mela had grown to a record 15 million! By 1989, the attendance was approximately 29 million!
Today, nearly 60-70 million people attend the Kumbh Mela, across the span of one and half months, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world.
Kumbh At Nashik
” सिंह राशि गते सूर्ये सिंह राशौ बृहस्पतौ । गोदावर्या भवेत कुम्भों जायते खलु मुक्तिदः ।। ”
When the Jupiter enters in Leo or Simha (zodiac sign) and the Sun and Moon in Cancer, the Kumbh is held at Nashik and Trimbakeshwar. When Jupiter, Sun and Moon enters Cancer on lunar conjunction (Amavasya – last day of the fortnight) then also Kumbh Festival is held on the bank of river Godavari. In traditional astrological calculations, Jupiter takes a period of 84 years to shift from one astrological circle to another circle. As such, out of 7 Kumbh Festivals every Kumbh Festival is celebrated in 12th year and 7th Kumbh Festival is celebrated in 11th year. This happens minimum once in every century.
There is the significant role of Jupiter in choosing Kumbh Festival calendar. According to the distribution of period out of 27 paths of the planets in solar system, 12 zodiac signs and 9 planets Aquaris is the 11th zodiac sign.
Aquaris (Kumbh) is an aquatic zodiac sign, whose master is Saturn. According to Indian traditional perception, Saturn is airy element. Water and air, this is the part of our climate/atmosphere. Kumbh Festival of Haridwar is the indication of this Zodiac sign. There is a difference of planetary alignments, in the Kumbh Festivals at Prayag, Nasik, Ujjain, but along with the superiority of Sun and Moon in our lives, the role of Jupiter. With a diameter of 88,000 miles, which is nearly ten times the diameter of the Earth it takes a little less than 12 years to go once around the Sun.
Dates of Nashik Kumbh-2015
|14 July||Tuesday||Flag hosting||Ramkund and Trimbakeswar|
|29 Aug||Saturday||First shahi snan||Ramkund and Trimbakeswar|
|13 Sept||Sunday||Second shahi snan||Ramkund and Trimbakeswar|
|18 Sept||Friday||Third shahi snan||Ramkund|
|25 Sept||Friday||Third shahi snan||Trimbakeswar|
Nashik city has a personality of its own, related to its topological, historical, mythological, social and cultural importance. Located on the banks of the Godavari River, it is one of the holiest places for Hindus. Visited all over the year. Nashik is believed to be the part of the forest Dandakaranya, where Lord Rama lived during his exile. Trimbakeshwar is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The sacred river Godavari originates here on Bramhagiri hills. Trimbakeshwar is also the eternal resting place of Shri Nivruttinath who is known as the founder of Nath Sampradaya. It’s also perceived mythologically that Rama’s brother Laxman, peeved by her endless persuasion to marry her, cut the nose of demon princess “Shurpnakha” here in the jungle, and thus this city was named as “Nasik”.
In the scriptures however Nashik got different names. Nashik was earlier known as ‘Trikantak’, ‘Janasthana’ , and later it became known as ‘Navashikh’ or ‘Nashik’. Nashik in 150 BC.was already developed as a large market place. From 1487 A.D, this province came under the rule of Mughals. It was also home of emperor Akbar and he has written at lenght about Nashik in ‘Ein-e-Akbari’. It was also a major centre for recruiting soldiers during the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji. But it was during the rule of the Peshwas, when the place was finally renamed as Nashik. During the Peshwas period, Raghoba Rao and his wife Anandibai had settled at ‘Anandwalli’ in Nashik. There is the Anandibai fort here. British were so fascinated by the nature and climate of Nashik that many of them settled here.
The city and developed and various educational institutes were established.The Golf course here, developed by the British, is one of the largest in Asia.
The river Godavari which passes through the city is having length of 18 kms, in the Municipal Corporation area. There are several villages on its banks, as well as the old part of the city. The stretch of the river from Ahilyabai Holkar Bridge to the Ram Setu is considered the holiest. The Nashik Kumbh is unique in nature as Vaishnava Akhadas and Shaiva Akhadas which bath together at Prayag, Haridwar and Ujjain, baths separately here. During a past Kumbh Mela, the Vaishnavites and the Shaivites disputed over their priority in ‘Shahi Snan’, in 177Os. As who would take the holy dip first. When the news reached the Peshwa Sadashivrao, he ruled that the Vaishnavites would perform their Shahi Snan at Nashik – Ramkund and Shaivites would have their Shahi Snan at Trimbakeshwar – at the Kushavarta teertha. This tradition is followed till date.
The Whole World At Nashik
I always find lots of international travellers as well as devoted f Hindu foreigners in the Kumbh Melas at Allahabad and Haridwar. But here in Nashik too, they have come in large numbers. This is for the first time a sizable number of Chinese travellers and Media persons, coming to Kumbh Mela.
A Chinese journalist was even detained by the police for using Drone Camera, without taking prior permission. Later he was interrogated with the help of a Chinese interpreter and relased. A group of around 20 Yoga teachers came from France to be a part of magnificent and unbelievable Kumbh Mela. “We simply not able to believe how so many people have come together at a venue for a ritualistic bath. We are totally mesmerised to see and experience this, unbelievable”! Said a French young traveller Didiane. Quite a number of foreign Sanyasis took part in all major rituals of the Kumbh. Swami Vishnudevanandji Maharaj, a high-ranking monk of the Juna Akhara, is one such Sanyasi who is from Russia. His Divya Lok Ashram is 700 kilometres away from Moscow.
He said that a large number of Russians are following the Vedic way of life and living spirituality in a highly disciplined way. Dressed in traditional Indian dresses, the foreign devotees were seen performing rituals at the Akharas, under the guidance of their spiritual gurus.
On the occasion of second Shahi Snan, on Sunday, many Chinese and Japanese media representatives also took a holy dip at Ramkund. A visitor from China said, “Kumbh Mela is undoubtedly a mega event, so many common people moving around, whole day and night in so disciplined way, is an unthinkable experience for me. I had spoken to the common people as well as with the Sadhus and the Mahants. And the unforgettable experience was my holy bath in the river.”
“Mapping the Kumbh Mela”, was a study by 50 Harvard faculty, staff and student researchers who travelled several Kumbh Mela sites over the years. Painstakingly they documented various happenings and processes involved in the Kumbh Mela, world’s largest human gathering. In Kumbh Mela premises I also meet every time, so many Indian origin people from as far as Surinam, Guyana, Mauritius, Reunion Islands, Seychelles and elsewhere! Many of them are big businessmen, intellectuals, even from the top hierarchy of politicians and their families.
Among the millions who took the holy dip in the river was Gisela Hueber from Germany who comes very often to India and got experience of Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, earlier. “I am a doctor by profession, interested in Indian way of medicines. The holy bath at the river really gave me some inexplicable feeling. I felt so relaxed and purified. It’s a collective faith that works, And the place itself is too important.” She said. “People are here on path of self-discovery. But in a way, innovation and innovators are also always on a path of self-discovery,” according to Ramesh Raskar, the Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, which has developed “KumbhaThon”, a unique technological solutions for better management of highly population-dense events. The digital platform is easily accessible by an Android cellphone app.
“Thousands and thousands of Indians from all over India, from different and diverse castes, class, language, climatic and ethnic backgrounds have assembled here at Nashik. And this is the most ideal setting for knowing this the country, digitally or otherwise,” Pratik Shah, another senior scientist from MIT Media Lab has opined. Attending such an event is very taxing physically and mentally for any journalist. You have to acclimatise with the place and weather, you’re always unsure about any proper accommodation at the spot. Local food, the language the moving crows, all are quite challenging…but the event is worth an experience, you never have this anywhere in the world, according to a seasoned Dutch Journalist Frederik.
“The challenges of covering such an event as a journalist, photographer or a travel writer are intimidating sometimes, but my love for adventure, always takes me to the exotic and the unknown destinations. And where you will find a better location than India!”
By Deep Basu
Images by author