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Why Kumbh Mela is celebrated
Posted By Sarin on Feb 03, 2013     RSS Feeds     Latest Hinduism news

Introduction to Kumbh Mela
Kumbh mela is the largest religious gathering of the world and so, is often called as “Greatest Show on earth”. Word KumbhMela is formed by combining two words Kumbh (Pitcher), and Mela (fair). This festival is celebrated every three years in one of the following four cities: Prayag(Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Kumbh mela celebrated in Allahabad every 12 years is said to be the grandest one and so, is rightly called as Maha Kumbh Mela. Maha means ‘Great’. Number of devotees attending kumbh mela has been on the rise since its inception. This shows the rising dissatisfaction among the thriving middle class family of India and the western world. Peoples across the world are fed up of the materialistic pleasures or are dissatisfied for some reasons and are looking for liberation (Moksha) at kumbh mela. Since kumbhmela is said to be the shortcut for Moksha (liberation), many devotees from all acrosss the world comes to kumbh mela. In spite of the fact that the waters of ganga has become extremely dirty, devotees are unbothered since Moksha (liberation) is the only thing they are looking for.  The total number of devotees expected to attend kumbh mela this year is estimated to be 100 million out of which 1 millions are foreigners.

Aerial View of Kumbh Mela
Preface to the story behind Kumbh Mela
Now the question that must be coming to your mind would be “why Kumbh mela is said to be the shortcut for liberation and what faith brings such volume of devotees to this grandest fair?” So, in this article, we will go through the story of how and why the kumbh mela festival was started?
Before I start this story, let me tell you that this story may seem absurd since it contains events where the deities are fighting, then flying horse and cow comes out of the ocean etc etc. But this is just a story which was meant to understand and connect to the deep spiritual side of our life. As I repeatedly says in my article, stories written in Indian scriptures is aimed to enlighten the spiritual side of our life and is not necessarily a historical event. Many of the stories written in sacred scriptures are not a true historical fact but an allegory aimed at enlightening our mind and soul.
Characters of this story
To understand this story, below are the characters you must apprehend.
Lord Indra - Lord of the heavens and planet earth.
Lord Brahma - Creator of this universe. There is one lord Brahma for each universe.
Lord Vishnu - Maintainer of this universe. There is one lord Vishnu for each universe.
Lord Shiva - Destroyer of this universe. There is one lord Shiva for each universe.
Goddess Lakshmi - Wife and consort of lord Vishnu
Goddess Uma/Parvati - Wife and consort of lord Shiva.
Demons - Evil souls of this universe just like the terrorist of the today world.
Devas - Subordinate of lord Indra.
Shukracharya - Spiritual Guru and commander in chief of Demons
Note that all the above characters are not gods but deities. There is only one god in Hinduism but about 330 million deities which includes the deities of other planets. Lord Vishnu /Lord Shiva are said to the supreme deities of this universe.

Brahma Vishnu Mahesh (Shiva)

Now the story goes like this
Sage durvasa curse all Devas to lose their powers
There was a time when all the Devas were living happily in heaven, taking care of all the creatures of mother earth. Each of the Devas had immense power and was responsible for taking care of one of the materialistic aspects of mother earth like wind, water, fire etc. One day, Sage Durvasa Visited Vaikuntha(Abode of lord Vishnu) to offer his obeisances to Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi. An apsara (Damsel) welcomed sage durvasa by gifting him one of goddess Lakshmi garlands, gifted to her by goddess Lakshmi. While returning from vaikuntha, Sage durvasa happened to pass through Indra loka (Abode of lord Indra). Sage offered the gifted garland to Indra. Indra accepted the sage gift but instead of wearing it, he kept the garland on his Airavat (elephant) head. Airavat, unaware of the value of the garland, threw away the garland and stamped on it crushing the garland completely. Indra and other Devas didn’t bother to stop the Airavat from destroying the garland. This angered sage durvasa and he cursed Indra for his lack of respect. He cursed Indra and the rest of Devas that they will lose all their power and glories.
Shukracharya get the boon of Sanjeevani mantra
On the other hand, Shukracharya did extreme penance and got the boon of Sanjeevani mantra from Lord Shiva. According to the boon, on reciting Sanjeevani mantra, dead ones come back to life.  
Demons Defeat Devas
Seeking revenge against Devas, Shukracharya announces war in heaven against the Devas. Each time Indra or his Devas killed demons; Shukracharya would bring them back to life by reciting Sanjeevani mantra. Indra foresees his defeat and runs away with his army.  
Devas request Lord Vishnu foe help
Extremely worried about Sanjeevani mantra, Indra approaches Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu advised him to churn the ocean of milk so that the nectar that comes out of that churning will make them immortal and help them regain their kingdom. Lord Vishnu warned Indra and other Devas to not desire anything else that comes out of the ocean as the result of the churning. He suggested them to keep churning till the nectar appears on the surface of the ocean. He also assured them that once the nectar comes to the surface; he himself would protect it and would see that the nectar is not consumed by even a single demon.  

Churning of the ocean at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand.

Indra plans the churning of the ocean
To churn the ocean, a huge team was needed and Indra army was not enough to churn the ocean. Vishnu suggested Indra to draw a temporary truce with demons for churning of the ocean.  As the demons are always seeking for immense strength and nectar of immortality, they would blindlyagree to churn the ocean.  

Demons accept truce with Indra
When Indra approached Demons to churn the ocean for obtaining nectar, Shukracharya suspected a trap and denied the permission. But when Indra questioned the demon king on what will be the state of demons if something happens to Shukracharya then under extreme pressure from the demon king, Shukracharya readily agreed to churn the ocean.

Arrangements for churning of the ocean
To churn the ocean, Lord Vishnu request Pakshi Raj (Lord of Birds) to bring the Mandhara Mountain. Vasuki (Lord of snakes) wraps himself to the mountain and volunteered to become the rope for tug of war between the demons and Devas.  
Lord Vishnu asks narada to resolve a minor problem
Before the start of the churning, Vishnu calls sage Narada for a minor problem. Since fire comes out of Vasuki mouth, Vishnu tells Narada to make sure the Devas don’t have to hold the front part of Vasuki. Narada assures Vishnu that he will take care of the problem.  
Narada plays his trick on demons and Shukracharya repents
As expected, a conflict rose among the demons and Devas on who should hold the front part of the snake Vasuki. Narada came in by saying that “One who is great should hold the front part of Vasuki. Since the Devas are great, they should hold the front part”. Extremely proud of their victory, demons reminded narada that in the last war, they defeated Devas. Hence they are great and so, they have the right to hold the front part. Narada smilingly agrees and convinces Devas to hold the end part of snake Vasuki. Shukracharya knew about the fire and curses himself for not being present at the place where the demons foolishly decided to hold the front part of snake Vasuki.

Demons holding the front end of Vasuki as shown in suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand

Lord Vishnu takes Kurma avatar
All set, Indra asks Pakshi raj to place the Mandhara Mountain inside the ocean. When Pakshi raj tries to place the mountain onto the ocean, mountain starts sinking owing to the massive depth of the ocean. Demons threaten to walk out since stopping the mountain from sinking was an impossible task for them. Seeing this, Lord Vishnu interfered immediately and took the avatar of the huge giant Kurma (Tortoise). Diving deep into the ocean, Kurma bore the colossal mountain on its back. Before taking the form of Kurma, Lord Vishnu informs her consort Lakshmi about his departure to the churning site. Lakshmi also wanted to go with him but lord Vishnu convinces her to stay for some time since she also has a role to play in this game of churning of ocean.
Churning of the ocean begins
On balancing the mountain on his back, Vishnu asks Indra to proceed with churning of the ocean. Demons take the front end of Vasuki and Devas held the rare end. Churning process starts and the Devas & demons pulled the Mandhara Mountain alternately causing the mountain to rotate. Since the mountain was huge and heavy, the churning process caused huge waves and the shaking of the site caused the water level of ocean to rise.  
Lord Vishnu sits on top of the mountain
As Devas and demons tried to lift the mountain, it became extremely heavy and the demons crushed under its sheer pressure. Lord Vishnu intervened yet again and balanced the mountain by sitting on the top of the mountain.  

Lord Vishnu on top of the mountain as depicted at suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand
Demons and Devas gets terrified of poison
During the churning, Vasuki was suffering extreme pain and was unable to stop hismelf from belching out the dangerous poison Halahala. This terrified both the Devas and demons because the poison was so toxic that it would have destroyed the whole universe (Sounds like the first biological weapon to me). Everybody including the demons and Devas started running away for lives and ran away as far as possible. Demons asked Shukracharya to abandon the churning process but Shukracharya said them to not worry as he would bring them back to life.  
Lord Shiva drinks poison and becomes neelkanth
Extremely terrified, Indra complained Vishnu “What is this going on? Please help”. Vishnu pacified him by saying that if obtaining nectar is so easy then what’s its significance. What will be your karma? The thrill of life is to play hide and seek with death. He advised Indra to request lord Shiva for help. Seeing his creation getting destroyed, Lord Brahma and Devas asked the destroyer, Lord Shiva, to consume the poison. To save the creation, Lord Shiva readily agreed to help. His Wife Uma/Parvati followed him closely. Lord Shiva is welcomed at the churning site by all the demons and Devas including lord Vishnu.
When Lord Shiva drank the first sip of poison, his face immediately turned blue. Uma quickly squeezed his throat so that the poison doesn’t descend to his body. Poison was stuck in lord Shiva throat which made his throat extremely blue. Vishnu praises lord Shiva and give him the name ‘Neelkant’, meaning Blue throat.  

Neelkanth Lord Shiva, one who drinks the sorrows of his devotees

Brahma thanked Shiva and Shiva explains his actions
Since the Devas was protected by lord Vishnu and demons by Shukracharya, Lord Brahma thanked lord Shiva for protecting all humans. Shiva accepts the greetings and explains that all creation is dual in nature. If there is light, there is darkness. If there is life then there is death and if there is nectar then there must be poison too. Shiva also preached that one shouldn’t think about his life to help others.
Indra informs the Shukracharya abut the drinking of poison by lord Shiva and ask his troops to start the churning process once again. Shukracharya orders his demon to go to the churning site and orders Swarnabhanu to keep watch on the whole operation.
Churning resumes and out comes goddess Lakshmi
Churning of the ocean resumes again. Due to back and forth movement of the mountain, froth is formed. Out of this froth, comes the manifestation of goddess Lakshmi, as beautiful as ever. But she is recognized just as a woman.  
Demons and Devas fight for goddess Lakshmi
Demons express their desire to have her while Indra says he is a Devi, hence belong to Devas. This enraged demons and they decided to wage a war against the Devas to win this woman.  
Vishnu explains Goddess Lakshmi
On the other hand, Goddess Lakshmi is looking all over for lord Vishnu. Enthralling and passionate lord Vishnu arrives and tells her through his eyes that she came out of the sea. So, she is now the daughter of the ocean and hence should ask Lord Brahma to determine her future. Lord Vishnu then leaves her all alone.  
Lord Brahma arranges Swayamvar of goddess Lakshmi
On the request of Lakshmi, Lord Brahma stops the war between the demon and Devas and announces the principles and protocol with respect to woman. According to this principle, woman is not an object of possession. So, no one can claim her and she has the right to choose man of her choice. Demon Harshal praises the courageous qualities of demon Kaalakethu and assures him that she will choose him only. This lit up Kaalakethu’s eyes. 
Goddess Lakshmi selects lord Vishnu in Swayamvar ceremony
On the other side, Lakshmi is worried because all the Devas and demons were invited for the swayamvar ceremony (Ceremony in which bride chooses the groom) but not lord Vishnu. In the ceremony, Goddess Lakshmi makes her way across all the demons and Devas, rejecting them and simultaneously keeping an eye on the door for a magical entry of lord Vishnu. She rejects all the kings and finally reaches the last one Kaalakethu. Now since he was the only one left, she has no choice but to marry him. She is petrified and terrified and then like a true bollywood movie, lord Vishnu makes an entry at the end moment. Seeing him, her happiness crosses all bounds and she runs towards him. Devas were happy seeing the union of lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi but demons were depressed.  They felt cheated and asked Shukracharya to abort the churning process.  But Shukracharya advised them otherwise.

Goddess Lakshmi selects lord Vishnu while the Devas and demons offer their obeisances

Churning process starts again and out comes various ratnas
Churning process started again and the following Ratnas(Treasures) came out one by one:
  1)    Kamdhenu, a wish fulfilling cow, taken by lord Vishnu
2)    Uchaishravas, a white flying seven-headed horse, taken by demon King Bali
3)    Airavata, a three-headed elephant taken by king indra.
4)    Parijata, the fragrant tree of paradise
5)    Varuni, a wine goddess taken away by demons
6)    Chandra(Moon) taken away by lord Shiva to reduce and placed on his brow to reduce the heat produced by poison
7)    Apsara (Celestial Nymphs) such as Menaka and rambha divided equally among Devas and demons.
8)    Kaustubha (Gem), adorned on the chest of lord vishnu
9)    Kalpavriksha, a wish fulfilling tree that ca fullfish anyone wishes.
10)     Dhanvantri, the divine Ayurvedic doctor
    And then finally came the Amrita (Nectar).  
Demons steal nectar from dhanvantri
Dhanvantri, the heavenly physician holds a pot of nectar on his hand. Appearance of the nectar lighted up the eyes of Devas and demons and they ran towards dhanvnatri to grab the pot of nectar from his hand. At last, the Asuras grabbed the pot of Amrita from dhanvantri.  
Why and where kumbh mela is celebrated
It is said that to protect the nectar from Devas, demons kept the pitcher of nectar on four places on earth: Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, strangely all in India”. Few drops of nectar fell on each of these four places. According to another story, Lord Vishnu Vehicle Garuda (Eagle) stole the pitcher from demons and flew away dropping few drops of nectar on each of these four places. This is the reason why the kumbh mela is celebrated at each of these four places by the one's seeking liberation.

Lord Vishnu takes mohini avatar
Story does not stop here. To fulfill the promise of protecting the nectar from hands of demons, Lord Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, a beautiful lady. Her mesmerizing beauty enchanted all the demons and demons were overjoyed by her dancing performance.  

Mohini enchanting everyone

Mohini tricked demons to distribute nectar to Devas
She invited Devas by telling the demons that “the demons are great and so must uphold justice and dignity”. She also convinced them that the nectar would be distributed equally to all of them. She told demons that the upper part of nectar is thin so it would be given to Devas and the lower thick nectar would be distributed among demons. She also said that Devas are Athiti(Guest) here. So, they should be served first. Distracted by her beauty, demons agreed to her conditions. mohini started distributing the nectar to the Devas first.  
Mohini beheaded Swarbhanu’ 
Demon ‘Swarbhanu’ divined the true identity of Mohini and understood her ploy to cheat the demons. He disguised himself as Devas and drank the nectar given by mohini. Deity Surya (Sun) and Deity Chandra (Moon) informed mohini about the demon disguise. Mohini immediately cut off the Swarbhanu head with her divine Sudarshana chakra.  
Beheaded Swarbhanu seek revenge by eating sun and moon.
However it was too late since he became immortal after drinking the nectar. As a result, his body cut into two parts, became two different demons, Rahu(Head) and ketu(Body). These two demons joined sun and moon to form Navagraha, the nine divinities. According to Indian scriptures, demon Rahu seeks revenge by swallowing the moon or sun thus causing lunar or solar eclipse. Rahu and ketu are said to be the planets in another dimension and invisible to naked human eye. This is the reason why Lunar and solar eclipse are regarded as very inauspicious in Indian astrology.

Mohini beheaded Swarbhanu

Lord Vishnu finishes off the Pitcher and escapes
When the pitcher became empty, Kaalakethu understood that mohini is lord Vishnu and the demons have been cheated. He tried to kill lord mohini but she escapes on her vehicle ‘Garuda’.
Cheated and humiliated, Demons accept defeat  
 Kaalakethu and other demons realized the trap and understood that they are no match against the Devas now.  Shukracharya was outrageous but instead of blaming Devas, he humiliated the demons by saying that those who are caught in the illusion of woman charm and beauty is not fit to rule any kingdom. They are bound to fail. Desire and sex is road to disaster.
Humiliated and disappointed by their losses, all the demons went back to their abode in Patala loka (nether land)
This was the story behind the origin of kumbh mela. However, I have missed the important point here. This story is highly symbolic and has a deep spiritual meaning not only in Hinduism but also in Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and communities of south East Asia. Symbolism and deep spiritual meaning of this story in itself is a very big topic and so, it will be discussed in my next article.  
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