The Ardh-Kumbh is scheduled to begin at Hardwar, Uttarakhand [India] on Makar Sankranti, 14 January 2016. Hundreds of thousands of people will arrive for this.
The newspapers are full of the arrangements for the Kumbh, the much needed revenue for the state that will be one of the results, and the problems that still exist.
Some interesting aspects:
The police to be deployed will be given a six-day crash course in English to enable them to help tourists. What will they learn in six days? The focus will be on asking questions with ‘five ws and an h’–where, when, what, who, why, and how. They will also learn to introduce themselves in English.
The railways: the number of trains on the Laksar-Hardwar route will be increased to 60, and there will be 40 additional ticketing windows.
The sewage problem: handling all the waste is a huge problem, and it is hoped the Ganga will not be further polluted.
The Pari akhara: a woman’s akhara may be allotted land for the first time, and the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad is against this.
Dev Prayaga: this has been included as a site for the kumbh for the first time, but there are few facilities there. The bridges over the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, the sources of the Ganga, are shaky, the ghats and changing rooms are not ready, and the chains haven’t been placed for pilgrims to hold on to while bathing in the icy river. Without these there is a danger of being washed away.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Kumbh Mela is a Hindu festival, held in rotation at four sacred places, Prayaga ( Allahabad), Hardwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. At each place the festival takes place once in twelve years, while an Ardha-Kumbha, or half-Kumbha, is held every six years, and a Maha Kumbh every third year. Legends associate the festival with the churning of the ocean of milk for Amrita or divine nectar. When it finally emerged from the ocean the Asuras [beings opposed to the gods, often wrongly translated as demons] and Devas [gods], who had forgotten their enmity and joined together to get this nectar, now struggled for its possession. In the course of the struggle, twelve drops fell on the earth, four of them at the above places, and the Kumbh Mela commemorates this event.
Some date the Kumbh Mela to the time of Harshavardahana, a king who ruled over north India from 606-647 CE, but this is doubtful, as Harsha was a Buddhist. He did hold a large gathering at Prayaga [Allahabad] where a Buddha statue was set up on the first day, on the second day of Adityadeva or Surya, and on the third of Ishvaradeva or Shiva. Large amounts were distributed in charity to Buddhist monks, brahmanas, Jains, members of other sects, and wandering mendicants, after which alms were given to the poor, the orphans and the destitute, by which time Harsha’s entire treasury was exhausted.
According to other accounts, it was Shankara of the ninth century who first organised the Kumbh Mela.
Contemporary references to the Kumbh exist from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.
It is also originally said to have been a fertility festival, in which pots of grain were dipped in the river to ensure a good harvest. Each Kumbh Mela, spread over several weeks, is visited by lakhs of people, and it is considered particularly auspicious to bathe in the sacred river at these places.