Kumbh : The Biggest Spectacle of Hindus on This Earth

The Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) is anchored in Hindu mythology. It is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith, anywhere in the world. The Mela draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of approximately 48 days to bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mystical Sarasvati. Primarily, this congregation includes Ascetics, Saints, Sadhus, Sadhvis, Kalpvasis, and Pilgrims from all walks of life.
Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years. The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimages on four sacred rivers as listed below:
• Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand
• Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh
• Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra
• Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh
Each site’s celebration is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the Jupiter. The celebrations occur at the exact moment when these positions are fully occupied, as it is considered to be the holiest time in Hinduism. The Kumbh Mela is an event that intrinsically encapsulates the science of astronomy, astrology, spirituality, ritualistic traditions, and socio-cultural customs and practices, making it extremely rich in knowledge.
Pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela come from all sections of the religion ranging from Sadhus (saints) and Naga Sadhus who practice ‘sadhana’ and keenly follow a strict path of spiritual discipline, to Hermits who leave their seclusion and come to visit the civilization only during the Kumbh Mela, to seekers of spirituality, and to common people practicing Hinduism.
During the Kumbh Mela, a number of ceremonies take place; the traditional procession of Akharas called ‘Peshwai’ on elephant backs, horses and chariots, the shining swords and rituals of Naga Sadhus during ‘Shahi Snaan’, and many other cultural activities that attract millions of pilgrims to attend the Kumbh Mela.
The origin of Kumbh Mela was transcribed by the 8th-century philosopher Shankara. The founding myth of the Kumbh Mela points out to the Puranas (compilation of ancient legends). It recounts how Gods and demons fought over the sacred pitcher (Kumbh) of Amrit (nectar of immortality) called the Ratna of Samudra Manthan. It is widely believed that Lord Vishnu (disguised as the enchantress ‘Mohini’) whisked the Kumbh out of the grasp of the covetous demons who had tried to claim it. As he took it heavenwards, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on the four sacred site we know as Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik and Prayag. The flight and the following pursuit is said to have lasted twelve divine days which is equivalent to twelve human years and therefore, the Mela is celebrated every twelve years, staggered at each of the four sacred sites in this cycle. The corresponding rivers are believed to have turned into Amrit at the cosmic moment, giving pilgrims the chance to bathe in the essence of purity, auspiciousness, and immortality.
Kumbh is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. It became a matter of research amongst scholars when the legend of Kumbh began attracting millions of pilgrims from across the world. However, it is an established fact that Prayag has been the center stage of Kumbh and an event of such grand scale does not culminate in one day but gradually develops over a period of time.
The term ‘Kumbh’ comes from the root ‘kumbhak’ (the sacred pitcher of elixir of immortality). There is a mention of ‘Kumbh’ and the bathing ritual associated with it in the Rig Veda (verse 10.89.7). It speaks of the benefits of bathing at sangam during this period, elimination of negative influences and rejuvenation of mind and soul. Prayers for the ‘Kumbh’ are also expressed in Atharva Veda and Yajur Veda.
Historic evidence points towards the rule of King Harshvardhana (c.590-647 CE), as the time when Kumbh Mela got widespread recognition across geographies. Famous traveler Hsuan Tsang has prominently mentioned the grandeur of Kumbh Mela in his travelogue. The traveler’s account also summarizes King Harsh’s charities at the confluence of holy rivers where he gave gifts and donations to the scholars and sanyasis. King Harsh used to hold a great quinquennial assembly on the sands of the holy confluence at Prayag and would distribute all his possessions.
Moreover, the historical texts also point towards evidence that Adi Shankaracharya established 10 Akharas, Ardha Kumbh and Kumbh Mela.
The Kumbh Mela at Prayag is widely considered as the most significant among all the Kumbh festivals held at other locations. It is considered as the source of light and knowledge. It is believed that Prajapati Bramha performed Ashvamedha Yajna at Dashashvamedha Ghat situated at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna and created the universe due to which it is the most famous and significant among all other Kumbh festivals.
Elemental meaning of Kumbh is:
• The confluence (Sangam) of all the cultures in the universe.
• A spiritual conscience.
• The flow of humanity.
• The flow of rivers, forests, and Rishi culture.
• The flow of life.
• The communion of nature and human life.
• The source of energy.
• The path of enlightenment.
The story of Samudra Manthan, one of the best-known episodes in the Hindu mythology, narrated in the Bhagvad Purana states that the sacred alignments of celestial bodies directly relate to the Kumbh festival. It took 12 divine days to carry the Amrit to the heavens. As one divine day of Gods is equivalent to one year of the humans, the journey to the heavens symbolizes 12 years in human terms. That is why every twelfth year when Jupiter enters the Aries constellation on the day of the new moon in the month of Magh, the Kumbh festival is organized. Mythological studies suggest that the Kumbh festival and the Ganga are related to each other. The Ganga flows in Prayagraj but Godavari of Nasik is also called the Ganga or the Gomti Ganga. Similarly, the Shipra (in Ujjain) is recognized as the north branch, the Ganga of Kashi. From that place onwards, Shipra becomes the east branch where it assimilates with the Ganga.

In continuation to the astrological calculation, the event of Kumbh takes place as per the following astrological positions:
• When Jupiter enters the Aquarius constellation along with the Sun moving in to the Aries constellation, the Kumbh festival is held at Haridwar.
• When Jupiter moves in to Leo, the Kumbh festival is held at Nasik on the banks of Godavari and in the event of Jupiter moving in to Leo and the Sun entering Aries, the Kumbh festival is held at Ujjain.
• When Jupiter enters Libra and the Sun and the Moon remain together on Kartik Amavasya (8th month of Hindu year) then also the Kumbh Festival is held at Ujjain.
• When Jupiter, the Sun, and the Moon enter Cancer on lunar conjunction (Amavasya), then also the Kumbh Festival is held on the banks of river Godavari.
• When Jupiter enters the Aries constellation and the Sun and the Moon are in Capricorn constellation, the Kumbh festival is held at Prayagraj on the new moon day.
• When the Sun is in Capricorn and Jupiter moves in to Taurus, the Kumbh festival is held at Prayagraj.
• Organising any event entails a massive marketing campaign, promotional activities, and sending invitations to guests. The Kumbh Mela is perhaps the only event in the world where no invitation is required yet millions of pilgrims gather to celebrate the holy event.
• Apart from its primary bathing rituals, the social aspect of the festival also revolves around the various Yajnas, the chanting of Vedic Mantras, holy elucidations, traditional dances, devotional songs, programs based on mythical stories, and prayers. Religious assemblies are held where doctrines are debated, standardized and conducted by renowned saints and sages. A prominent part of the festival is the act of donations to the poor and helpless, to the saints, and to cows. Donations range from basic food and clothing to even precious metals.
• The welfare of all beings, sharing of noble thoughts and maintaining good relationships with all the beings across the world is the core message prevalent during the Kumbh festival. Kumbh has been spiritually uniting the people of India and across the world since time immemorial and will continue doing so for years to come.
Aarti
In India, since ancient times, various forms of nature like rivers, mountains, and trees have been deemed Gods. In this course, continually flowing rivers served as a lifeline and are given immense importance. In simpler words, human existence demonstrates their gratitude towards rivers through Aartis’ on the riverbanks in which people participate to show their devotion towards the rivers. At places, these numbers are in hundreds, at others may reach several thousand and on special days the participants for these rituals gather in lakhs.
Likewise, in Tirathraj Prayagraj Aartis’ are performed on the banks of Ganga, Yamuna and at Sangam with great admiration, deep-rooted honor and devotion. In Prayagraj, Prayagraj Mela Authority and various other communities make grand arrangements for these Aartis. Lakhs of devotees take part on these occasions on special festive days. The Aartis’ are performed in the mornings and evenings in which Batuks (Priests), normally 5 to 7 in numbers chants hymns with great fervour, holding meticulously designed lamps and worship the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Sangam with utmost devotion. The lamps held by the batuks represent the importance of panchtatva. On one hand, flames of the lamps signify bowing to the waters of the sacred rivers and on the other, the holy fumes emanating from the lamps appear to play the mystic of heaven on earth.
Snan
Prayagraj Kumbh comprises of many rituals including bathing ritual, which by far is the most significant rituals performed at Kumbh. Millions of pilgrims take part in the Kumbh bathing ritual at the Triveni Sangam. Performing this sacred ritual is in accordance with the belief that by submerging oneself in the holy waters, one is purged of all their sins, release themselves and their ancestors from the cycle of rebirth and ultimate attainment of Moksha. Along with the bathing ritual, the pilgrims also worship on the banks of the holy river and participate in discourses from various sadhus and saints.
Although taking the dip in the sacred waters on all days of Prayagraj Kumbh beginning from Makar Sankranti (first day of the month of Magh, when the Sun enters Capricorn) is considered holy, yet there are some specific auspicious bathing dates. There are magnificent processions of saints and their disciples, and members of various Akharas (religious orders) take part in the ritual of Shahi Snan also known as ‘Rajyogi Snan’ at the start of Kumbh. Shahi Snan is the central highlight of Kumbh Mela and the most important part of the celebration. Only after the Shahi Snan people are allowed to take the holy bath, in the belief that the people will get the added advantage of the essence of holy deeds and thoughts of the holy saints by taking the holy dip after them.
Kalpavas
Kalpvas, at the sacred confluence at Prayagraj during Kumbh holds a special significance. According to ‘Brahma Purana’ and ‘Padma Purana’, the period of Kalpvas is from Ekadashi of the full moon in the Paush month up to ‘Maghi Ekadashi’. Maharshi Dattatreya outlines the ritual of Kalpvas in detail in the ‘Padma Purana’. According to the scripture, a Kalpvasi has to observe the 21 rules through mind, speech, and action. These rules are as follows:
• True speech i.e. abstinence from untruthful
• Nonviolence
• Mitigation of senses
• Feeling benevolence for all living beings
• Observance of celibacy
• Renunciation of all indulgence
• Rising before sunrise
• Bathing thrice a day
• Observance of ‘Trikal Sandhya’
• ‘Pind Daan’ of ancestors
• Donate as per capacity
• Afferent Jaap
• Satsang
• Shetra Sanyas ( non-violation of reserved space),
• Renunciation from criticism
• Offer services to ascetics and saints
• Japa
• Sankirtan
• Meals are to be taken only once a day
• Sleeping on the ground and
• Denouncing Gangodak-Agni.
‘Brahmacharya’ (The practise of celibacy)
‘Brahmacharya’ means living as ‘Bramha’, meaning evolving oneself into being the Bramha. In common parlance, renunciation of desires is ‘brahmacharya’ like luxury and substance indulgence, usage of oil-rich foods and sexual desire are the main elements for compliance to Bhrahamcharya.
Fasting (Vrat)
Fasting is the most important part of Kalpavas. During Kumbh special significance is given on fasting on specific days. Vrat may be divided into two categories, namely Nitya and Kamya. ‘Nitya’ Vrat signifies the fasting observed for the love of the divine, without any ambition. This inspires spiritual upliftment. Whereas, ‘Kamya’ Vrat is for procurement of any desired result.
Absolute observance of all ten aspects of dharma is necessary during the practice of fasting. Manu has described these ten dharmas to be:
Patience, Forgiveness, Selflessness, Not to steal, Physical purity, Control of senses, Wisdom, Knowledge, Speaking the truth and Non-violence
As denoted in the shloka:
‘Dhrutih kshama damoasteym shauchmindriynigrah
Dhivridha satyamkrodhi dashank dharmlakshanam’
Praying to Gods (Dev Pujan)
It is believed that during the Kumbh Mela the Gods visit the banks of Sangam and meditiating in their honor with complete devotion brings well-being. The devotion of the worshipper is paramount in Dev Pujan because if the devotee is not completely immersed in the ceremony, then pujan will not be fruitful.
The practice of Daan
Daan during Kumbh holds great significance. Here, both the donator and the receiver of alms are benefitted. Therefore, donation during Kumbh is considered greater than relinquishment. Gau-daan (donation of cow), Vastra Daan (donating of clothes), Dravya Daan (donating of money), Swarn Daan (donation of gold) has immense significance. Samrat Harshavardhan used to donate all his possessions every twelve years during Kumbh.
Satsang
Literal meaning of Satsang is to be in the company of truth. During Kumbh, the devotees should stay in close connection with the saints and intellectuals, should listen to their discourses, and offer them services. In order to liberate oneself from the feeling of selfishness and to inculcate equality to proceed on the path of attaining higher self.
Shraadh and oblation (Tarpan)
Shraadh means offering of Pinda with complete devotion that can only be performed by a priest. There are specialized priests available at Prayagraj only for this purpose as they have the genealogy of the devotee performing the shraadh. However, the Tarpan ritual may be performed by anyone while chanting the specific mantras.
Veeni Daan
In Prayagraj, ‘Veeni Daan’ holds a great significance in the Kumbh Mela. This ritual is performed by shaving one’s hair completely and leaving just the ‘Shikha’ (top knot) and offering it to the Ganga. It is believed that sin resides at the base of hair, and the Sangam, during Kumbh is the best place to absolve one from all their sins. It is believed that a Kalpvasi must do veni daan in Prayagraj during the Kumbh Mela.
Moreover, a Kalpvasi is supposed to wear only clean silk or woollen, white or yellow clothes. It is believed that leading this kind of life cleanses the body and soul.
Deep Daan
At Triveni Sangam, numerous sparkling oil lamps fill the innermost conscience of the devotees with a heavenly feeling. Thousands of lighted Diyas (lamps) spread the light of spirituality across the environment in such a manner that the waves of religious fervour and devotion affect even the most atheist of people. Verbal meaning of ‘Deep daan’ is the offering of lighted earthen lamps at specific places such as the river banks, near temples, religious trees, in forests or on any other sacred location.
Devotees offer lighted earthen lamps (Deepak) in a specific month, at specific places and on specific occasions. For example, in the month of Kartik, Deep daan is done near the sacred Tulsi plant. On festivals like ‘Ganga Dussehra’, ‘Dev Deepavali’ ‘Magha Mela’, or ‘Kumbh Mela’, devotees make a vessel from leaves on which a lamp made of wheat flour filled with oil along with a cotton strand is lighted and floated on water as an offering of gratitude towards the river.
Devotees offer lighted earthen lamps (Deepak) in a specific month, at specific places and on specific occasions. For example, in the month of Kartik, Deep daan is done near the sacred Tulsi plant. On festivals like ‘Ganga Dussehra’, ‘Dev Deepavali’ ‘Magha Mela’, or ‘Kumbh Mela’, devotees make a vessel from leaves on which a lamp made of wheat flour filled with oil along with a cotton strand is lighted and floated on water as an offering of gratitude towards the river.Deep daan is also offered in thousands of numbers by boats by some devotees depending on their devotion, ability and commitment.
Floating lighted Diyas on flowing water seem like twinkling stars reflecting divine brilliance in the Ganga. During Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, this presents a mesmerising scene.
Triveni Sangam
Triveni Sangam is the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati. The Saraswati River is said to be the invisible river that is said to surface only during Kumbh with the sacred chanting of hymns and elucidations representing knowledge. Sangam is said to be the basis of the congregation of millions of Pilgrims. In Mahabharata, it is stated that around sixty crore ten thousand pilgrimages are found in Prayagraj, and sangam is considered to be the base of most of the sixty crore pilgrimages.
As per mythology, the pilgrimages are said to be brought to Sangam by the rivers themselves and that any spot where the holy water of these rivers reach is in itself a pilgrimage destination.Sangam has seen pilgrims and sages worshipping at the banks of the holy river since time immemorial. Millions of pilgrims visiting the Sangam during Maha Kumbh, Kumbh and Ardha Kumbh are the living proof of the spirit of Sangam. Various texts have defined Sangam, among which Bramha Purana refers to achieving the benefits of Ashvamedha Yajna by bathing at Sangam and Matsya Purana refers to achieving the benefits of the combined worship of ten thousand pilgrims. Skanda Purana has detailed the benefits of the various Snaans (holy baths) during the holy months of January to March. These include the Maghi Poornima, Basant Panchmi, Mauni Amavasya and Makar Sankranti.
Prayagraj Panchkoshi Parikrama
The changing times have had an impact on the course and the nature of the Kumbh festival. The rituals of “Parikrama” (circumambulation) have had a direct impact of such changes. Today, the ritual that has been an integral part of “Kumbh” since time immemorial has mostly lost its existence.
In order to revive this historical ritual of utmost significance, the Shri Akhada Parishad and Mela Authority have re-mapped the “Parikrama” path and further plans to develop the temples that appear along this path. The goal here is to re-establish a historical ritual while providing an opportunity to the new generation to acquaint themselves with the rich history of this event of cultural, religious and spiritual significance.
“Dwadash Madhav” temples and other significant temples that appear en route of “Prayagraj Panchkoshi Parikrama".
Shri Madhava Temples
Shri Adiveni Madhav
It is believed that Shri Adiveni Sangam has vanished in Triveni since it has no physical existence and therefore the entire Triveni is considered as the shrine.
Shri Asi Madhav
It is said that Shri Asi Madhav has their place in the Nagvasuki temple of Daraganj. It is believed that Shri Asi Madhav along with Lord Shiva had allowed the Naga sadhus to reside here. The statue of Shri Asi Madhav ji has been enshrined in the main temple.
Shri Sankashtahar Madhav
This temple is situated around 200 meters away from the bank of Ganga at Pratishthanpuri (Jhunsi), opposite to the ashram of Shri Prabhudatt ji Brahmachari. It is believed that Shri Brahmachari ji used to meditate under the ancient banyan tree of the temple. This ancient temple was in a broken-down state and the idol of Shri Madhav ji was also fragmented but now a new temple has been constructed at the same place and a new idol of Shri Madhav ji has been enshrined in the temple.
Shri Shankh Madhav
It is located at Munshi Bageecha near Chhatnagghat, east of Sangam. One can find the ashram of Maharshi Sadafaldev on this location even today. Some parts of the temple have been renovated. The idol of Shri Madhav ji has been enshrined in the compound of the temple. The temple is based on the Aryan style of architecture.
Shri Chakra Madhav
The temple was constructed in the agneya direction (Agni Kon) around fifty years ago in the Arail region of Chak Beniram.
Shri Adi Madhav
Shri Adi Madhavji resides in a temple near Arail ghat next to Shri Rameshwar Mahadev temple. The temple is an exquisite model of beautiful traditional Aryan architecture.
Shri Gada Madhav
It is said that Shri Gada Madhav ji resides towards the south of Shri Chakra Madhav. The idol of Shri Gada Madhav ji is currently enshrined in a newly constructed building near Chheoki Junction. Now, only the holy feet relics of the ancient idol whose height is approximately 15 inches remain enshrined in a ten-meter long corridor of the temple. The folklores mention a lake on this site in historic times which is believed to have been filled and subsequently occupied. On the south of this place is the boundary of holy Prajapati’s region. People believe that in past sages stayed here as receiving donations was prohibited at the confluence of holy river Ganga and Yamuna.
Shri Padma Madhav
The archaeological evidence collected from the location of Shri Padma Madhav indicate the original location to be in Veekar, situated towards the west of Naini. A Shiva temple located on top of an island in the midst of river Yamuna at Veekar Devariya is proclaimed as the abode of Shri Padma Madhav ji. The temple is known as Sujavan Dev and is only accessible by boat.
Shri Manohar Madhav
The temple of Shri Baba Darevarnath situated at Kamla Nehru Marg is believed to be the abode of Shri Manohar Madhav Ji. It is said that Kuberji himself worshipped Madhav ji at this location. The site also used to have an ashram of Kuberji in the past.
Shri Bindu Madhav
This area now located in the cantonment area. At the Draupadi ghat of this region, the idol of Shri Bindu Madhav Ji was established. Today one can find the idol of the deity at Draupadi ji temple itself.
Shri Veni Madhav
Shri Veni Madhav ji is located in a two-storey building at Daraganj in Nirala Marg. This is the most famous Madhav temple among all.
Shri Anant Madhav
It is said that Shri Anant Madhavji is situated in Devagirva, which is 4 km away from Khuldabad, west of Prayagraj. This temple and its nearby area fall under the army cantonment area
Apart from these twelve Madhvas, one more Madhva in Prayagraj has been illustrated in various texts. This Madhavas is said to be located at the roots of Akshayavat.
Akshyavat| Patal puri Mandir:
The indestructible nature of Akshayvat in pralaykaal (Destruction of Universe) has been mentioned in several religious text and Puranas. The same Akshayvat is the part of Patalpuri temple situated in the basement of Prayagraj fort built by Akbar. Some of the branches of the Akshayvat are secured in the adjacent part of Patalpuri temple.
Padila Mahadeo ji
At a distance of 15 km from Prayagraj on Phaphamau-Varanasi road, there is a famous ancient temple of Padilla Mahadeo. Baiju temple is also located on the same premises. Baiju was a famous devotee of Lord Shiva. It is said that during Agyatvas, Pandavas had established the Shivalingam at this temple. Kanwarias and devotees of Shiva visit the temple in large number in the Shravan month.
Koti Tirtha shiva Kuti ji
All through the month of Shravan, a Mela is organised at the dham of Tirtheswar Bhagwan Shiva. There is special importance accorded to visiting and bathing in this Tirtha. It is considered that the donations and offerings made on behalf of the lineages are highly fruitful. It is also believed that Bhagwan Ram worshipped at this place in order to release himself from the effects of Brahamhatya by making thousands earthen shivalingams as per the directives of Maharshi Bhardwaj.
Shaktipeetha
Shaktipeethas of Prayagraj are listed below along with their significance:
Man Lalita Devi
Maa Lalita Devi temple is situated at Meerapur, and is a part of the 51 Shaktipeethas of Goddes Sati. About 50 years Prabhu Dutta Brahamchari ji constructed a small temple here, which later, developed in to the present temple.
Kalyani Devi
Kalyani Devi considered as the favoured deity of Maharshi Bhardwaj. The current structure is about 1500 years old. It is said Maharshi Yagya Valka had established an idol measuring 32 fingerlength of Maa Kalyani Devi at this temple. Devotees have great faith in this temple.
Alopshankari Devi
Alopshankari Devi mandir situated in Alopibagh is under the management of Mahanirvani panchayat Akhara. It is one of the Shakti Peethas of this country. Fingers of Devi Sati had fallen here and, there is in idol of Devi. There is a kund in the middle of rectangular plateform in which water is filled. A swing (jhoola) hanging from the roof of the temple is placed just above kund. Both the jhoola and the kund are worshipped.
Bara sthan of Tulsi Das ji
At the southern gate of Daraganj in mela area, there is big location dedicated to Tulsi Das ji. Akbar tried his best to destroy this siddha place, which lied in course of a dam construction site. Followers of all four Vaishnava sects go for the sangam snan through this place holding the victory flag of Hanuman ji, known as Nisham. These flags are kept safeguarded for next kumbha.
Bade Hanuman ji
Below the triveni bandh on sangam river front, there is temple of bade Hanuman ji. Only lying idol of Hanuman ji in the country is in this temple. feets of Hanuman ji is towards south and below a feet, idol of deity of patal kunda is found and below second feet Abhiravan is pressed. Under right arm Makardhwaj and the left Shri Ram and Luxman may be seen. Daily large number of people visit this temple. It was constructed by siddha sant bhagambari baba on Ganga bank.
Sankar Viman Mandapam
Swami Chandra Shekhar Saraswati, Sakracharya of Kanchi Kam Koti Peetham, established this temple on the Ganga bank of Triveni Bandh this temple based on 15 pillars. There are more that 300 idols in this temple, based on south Indian architecture, designers prepared this structure with untiring labour for many years. Sahastra Mukhi shivling is installed on the third floor of three-storied temple.
Mankameshwar Mandir
being a temple in the basement of Prayagraj fort it is opened only in magh month for visiting. There are more than 40 idol of Ganesha, Guru Gorakhnath, Narsingham, Shivlingam and Dharmraja.
Akharas
On hearing the word ‘Akahara’, wrestling comes to the mind, but here, the meaning is related to the origin of the word. The word ‘akahra’ is the distorted form of the word ‘akhand’ whose literal meaning is indivisible. Adi Guru Shankracharya attempted to unite organizations of ascetics to protect the ‘Sanatan’ way of life. Therefore, various Akharas were established for uniting followers of similar religious customs, views and ideologies. The saints and ascetics associated with an Akhara specializes in both scriptures and armaments.
Akharas are a symbol of social order, unity, culture and ethics. Their main objective is establishment of spiritual values in the society. The greatest responsibility of Akhara Mathas is to establish ethical values in the society. For this reason, during the selection process of Dharma Gurus special emphasis is given on virtue, morality, self-restrain, compassion, rigorousness, farsightedness, and religiosity. Indian culture and unity derives its strength from these Akharas. Despite being divided under various organisations, Akharas are a symbol of unity among diversity. A specific type of Akahara Matha consisting of Naga sages holds special significance. Each Naga sage is always associated with some or the other Akahara. These sages on one hand specialize in scriptures and on the other are experts in the art of combat.
Akahras may be categorised into the following three sections based on their favoured deity:
• Shaiva Akahras : The favoured deity is Lord Shiva. They worship Lord Shiva in various forms based on the specific beliefs and ideologies of their organization.
• Vaishnava Akharas :Lord Vishnu is the favoured deity of this sect. They worship Lord Vishnu in various forms based on the specific beliefs and ideologies of their organization.
• Udaseen Akharas :Chandra Dev, the son of the first guru of the Sikh community is considered as the founder of the Udaseen Akhara. Followers of this of this sect principally offer their adulations to ‘ॐ’.
A five-member committee looks after order and operations of the organization and are considered the representatives of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, and Shakti. In terms of numbers, ‘Juna Akahara’ is the largest, closely followed by ‘Niranjani’ and ‘Mahanirvani’ Akharas. Mahamandaleshwaras lead the Akharas and they are the only ones authorised to share the Guru-mantra to the inexperienced saints. During Peshvai and Shahi Snaans, ‘Mahamandaleshwaras’ lead the procession on ornate chariots accompanied by ‘Shri Mahanta’, followed by their secretaries on elephants, Naga sages on horses and rest of the saints following on foot. Akharas display great pomp and royal glory by displaying their skills using traditional weapons along with all the paraphernalia during the procession.
Akhil Bhartiya Akahda Parishad has been established to promote mutual harmony and settlement of any dispute among the Akaharas. Akhil Bhartiya Akahda Parishad in consultation with the Mela committee comprising of Mandal Commissioner, District Magistrate and Mela Adhikari determine the date and time along with the order of Akharas for the procession of Shahi Snaan and Peshvai.
Nowadays, these Akharas are perceived with much admiration and devotion. Holding the flags and banners of Sanatan Dharma, these akaharas spread the lustre and glory of Akahara Dharm in all directions. The reverence and devotion of pilgrims towards these akaharas is apparent during the processions of Shahi Snaan when they gather on both sides of the processions to receive their blessings.
Dandiwada
Ascetics who hold wooden logs called ‘Bhramha Danda’ are known as ‘Dandi’ Sanyasis. Organization of Dandi Sanyasis is called ‘Dandi Bara’. ‘Dand Sanyas’ is not a sect but it is a tradition of Ashram system. Under this system only Brahmins have the right to take up this Sanyas. It is said that Lord Narayana himself was the first Dandi Sanyasi who held the ‘Danda’.
" Narayanam padya bhavm vashinshtah, shaktim cha tatputra parashram cha
Vyasam sukam gaur padam mahantam Govind yogindramathaasya shishyam
Shri Shankaracharyamathaasya padya padam a hastamalankam cha shishyam
Tam trotankam vartikkar manmansya guru santat maanatosim II"
Thereafter, Lord Adi Guru Shankaracharya established four ‘Mathas’ in all four directions and appointed ‘Dharmacharyas’ in all the ‘Mathas’. Afterwards, for protection of religion Adi Shankaracharya founded ‘Dashanam Sanyas’ in which three (Ashram, Tirth, Sarasvati) became ‘Dandi Sanyasis’ and rest seven were established as’ Akharas’
Among Dandi Sanyasis, the very first one is the Ashram sect whose prime matha is Sharda matha, favoured deity is Siddheshwara, Goddess is Bhadrakali, and Acharya is ‘Vishvaroopacharya’. The title of their Brahamcharis is “Swaroop”. ‘Tirth’ who adopts the code of conduct of the Ashram takes the second place, and the followers of Shringareri Matha are addressed as ‘Saravati’.
Acharya bada
Acharya Bara sect is also known as ‘Ramanuj Sect. The first Acharya of this sect was ‘Shathkop’ who used to sell winnowing basket (soop);
“shupra vikriya vichaar shatkop yogi”
His disciple was ‘Munivahan’ who was the second Acharya. The third Acharya was ‘Yamnacharya’ and the fourth one was Ramanuj. The fourth Acharya propagated this sect by creating various holy books. It is from that time that the sect came to be known as ‘Shri Ramanuj sect’. The followers of this sect worship ‘Narayana’ and revere ‘Laxmi’ as their deity. Their main pilgrimages include the banks of ‘Kaveri’ and ‘tri-dand’.
In the Acharya Bada sect, boys over eight years are bestowed with ‘Brahmchari Diksha’. Thereafter, they study Vedas and after completion of their study, Sam Veda is considered as their Veda. But ‘Sanyasa’ is bestowed to them only after passing multiple stages of examinations. However, they have the freedom to choose normal family life (Grihasta) after the completion of their studies. However, if they choose to take Sanyas, they cannot indulge themselves into any family relations.
The Sanyasis are educated in Panch Sanskara in which the heated conch (Shankh Chakra) is touched at the base of the palm, are made to wear tripund tika of sandalwood on their forehead and are named after the names of the honored Gods. Thereafter, they are provided with the Guru Mantra and it’s only then, they are initiated into the sects with yajna sanskar.
• Oath of compatibility
• Denouncement of prejudice
• Faith on God as a savior
• God is in everything
• Aatma-nicheda
• Functionableness
In conclusion, it may be said that Acharya Bara is a supreme example of dualism and this sect and practicing differentiation between self and God, worships their favored deity.
Prayagwal
Prayagwals share a very close relationship with historically celebrated Tirathraj Prayagraj. The name ‘Prayagwal’ refers to the original citizens of Prayagraj who continue to live here from many generations.
Pilgrims and devotees visiting the Kumbh Mela or Magh Mela are welcomed and settled in the Mela area by Prayagwals who perform various rituals of Kumbh for the pilgrims. Same has been described in ‘Matsya Purana’ and Prayagraj Mahatamya. As a practise, Tirth Purohit (priest) accompanies pilgrims visiting Prayagraj. The relationship between the devotee and the priest is of Guru and Shishya (student and teacher). Prayagwals, as religious gurus of the devotees are the only people allowed to collect donations from the pilgrims at the Triveni Sangam.
Mr. Nemil wrote in the district gazetteer, that the pilgrims who pay their homage at Prayagraj have all kinds of religious rituals performed by Prayagwals. First, a visit is made to Beni Madhava followed by the ritual of Sankalp. Thereafter, the devotee gets his head shaved (Mundan ceremony) followed by bathing ritual and Pind Daan (offering of libations of water to the Gods). Afterwards, Shaiyya daan (donation of bedding), Gau-dan (donation of cow) and Bhumidan (donation of land) are made. Prayagwals perform all kinds of daan-updaans for the pilgrims. Genealogy of the pilgrims are available with the specified priest of their family. Prayagwal’s Yajmaan are duly noted based on area and family name in their records. Tirth Purohits finds the details of their Yajmaans in moments by which Yajmaans get very pleased to see the names and signatures of their ancestors on the registers. Prayagwals are allotted land at the Mela site on negligible rent from the authority on which arrangement for tents are made. Devotees are invited to stay there for the duration of the Kumbh Mela and the rent is covered by the donations offered by Yaajmans
The organization of Prayagwals is known as Prayagwal Sabha. Demarcation and allotment of land to Prayagwal is done through Prayagwal Sabha. The number of Takhats (wooden platforms) per Prayawal are also fixed. Prayagwal maintains the records in the registers kept in a big box on the Takhat, and from these Takhats all religious rituals are performed by Prayagwals for the Yajmaans. Prayagwal display their banner on a tall bamboo pole by which pilgrims identify their specific Prayagwals.
Bibliography
The Holy Dip
Publisher – Studium Press (India) Pvt. Ltd.
Author - Devesh Chaturvedi, I.A.S.
Kumbh Mela - Pilgrimage to the Greatest Cosmic Fair
Edited by - D.P. Dubey
Kumbh Mela - Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City
Publisher - Hatje Cantz, Harvard University, South Asia Hewitt
Mahakumbh 2001 - The greatest show on earth
Author - JS Mishra
Mahakumbh - Spiritual Journey
Author - Jiwesh Nandan
Kumbh Darsshan
Author - Ramnaresh Tripathi
Importance of lifestyle during Kumbh bath and Kalpavaas for prevention of communicable disease
Author: Vachaspati Tripathi

Ratnesh Dwivedi is a seasoned academic,journalist,NASA Certified Educator and Interdisciplinary Scientist and is currently serving as Full Time Associate Professor of School of Journalism and Mass Communication at IMS,Noida,India and Consultant Dean,Faculty of Social Sciences,British American University,Colombo,Sri Lanka(HQ-Florida,USA).He has authored 22 books,34 international research papers and around 200 articles for global platforms).

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