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Kumbh Mela Festival

Kumbh Mela Festival, also known as Kumbha Mela in Hinduism, is a religious festival that is celebrated four times over the course of 12 years. The festival is held at the four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers, at Haridwar on the Ganges River; at Ujjain on the Shipra, at Nashik on the Godavari, and at Prayag at the confluence of the Ganges. The celebration switches between the four places every 3 years. The four sacred places are where drops of the nectar of immortality fell from an urn that was being fought over by the gods and demons. The celebration of each site is based on a different set of astrological positions of the sun, the moon and Jupiter. The holiest time occurs at the exact moment when these positions are in full occupation.

The traditions say that Kumbh Mela Festival dates back to the 8th century philosopher Shankara, who organized constant gatherings of learned ascetics for discussion and debate. The myth of the Kumbh Mela is concerned with how the gods and demons fought over the pot of amrita, the elixir of immortality that is produced through their joint churning of the milky ocean. During their fight, drops of the elixir fell on the four earthly sites. The rivers are believed to go back to the primal nectar at the climactic moment of each, giving pilgrims the opportunity to bathe in purity, auspiciousness and immortality.

Tens of millions of pilgrims attend the festival roughly every three years, praying the holy waters to liberate them for the cycle of rebirth. Additionally, there is a great Kumbh Mela festival held every 144 years at Prayag. There are vast crowd of disciplines, friends and spectators join the ascetics and organizations. People come from all sections of Hindu religion to attend the Kumbh Mela. They range from sadhus holy men, who remain naked throughout the year or practice severe physical discipline, to hermits, who leave their isolation during these pilgrimages and to silk-clad teachers. Despite enforcing an established bathing order by the government, bloody fights between different groups were recorded by history. The holy orders were originally formed as armies to protect temples from invaders. They have turned their weapons on each other, fighting over which order gets to enter the river first. However, in recent years, they have made a schedule.

The festival is full of musical performances, voices droning, chants and prayers. There is also an occasional trumpeting of an elephant and the din of millions of people. During the festival, holy men march in lines while carrying coconut half-shells, wailing for alms. Other people sit in quiet repose, with their bodies covered in ash. The festival lasts for more than 50 days, with four major bathing days. There is one key moment in the first day; it is when members of the main holy orders charge out naked into the river, covered in ashes, to purify the waters and mark the beginning of the bathing.