For someone born a Muslim and who attended schools that were predominantly Christian and enjoyed being in the choir despite my extra deep voice, I have to say I was very intrigued and excited to have the opportunity to go and experience that Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in India this year.
Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage where followers of the faith gather at one of the four designated sacred rivers for a dip in the water. It is held every third year at one of the four places by rotation namely, Haridwar, Allahabad, Nasik and Ujjain.
Thus the Kumbh Mela is held at each one of these four locations every twelfth year. Ardh ("Half") Kumbh Mela is held at only two places, Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag), every sixth year.
The rivers at these four places are the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Prayag, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Shipra at Ujjain. The word Kumbh in Hindi means pitcher while Mela means fair.
The pilgrimage takes about one and a half months at each of these places where it is believed that drops of nectar fell from the 'Kumbh' carried by gods after the sea was churned.
The festival is billed as the "biggest gathering on earth". There is no scientific method for ascertaining the actual number of pilgrims even approximately and the number of pilgrims in the water on the most auspicious day. Figures vary widely from two to eight million.
In 2001, more than 40 million gathered on the busiest of the 55 days of the pilgrimage. According to administrative estimates, around 70 million people participated on the 45th day of Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag in 2007.
The last "Kumbh Mela" held in 2010 in Haridwar was estimated by the authorities to have attracted between 30 and 70 million people a rather varied estimation. This year the Maha Kumbh Mela began on 14 January at Prayag. According to expectations more than 100 million people were expected to attend.
For the record, the next Kumbh Mela will be held at Nashik on the banks of River Godavari in 2015. Amongst the 100 million pilgrims this year there were 100 special ladies who witnessed the event for the very first time in their lives. These ladies are former human scavengers who were liberated by Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the Sulabh Social Sanitation Movement.
Before their liberation, these ladies who fall under the untouchable caste in the Hindu social system had to fill and carry bucket like toilets with their bare hands. They were not allowed to draw water from wells and had to wear bells around their necks to alert people passing by that they were advancing.
As a result of their status they not allowed to worship in temples and lived on the outskirts of towns. For some strange eason they were even not allowed to spit on the ground.
With the invention of a two pit latrine that incorporated traditional beliefs, much of that has changed but for many the icing on the cake of their freedom was being allowed to perform most important religious ritual of taking a dip in the River Ganges and being accepted by the Hindu upper caste pundits who ended up they dined with them.
Ms Usha Chandra, the honorary President of Sulabh International said that she was beyond words when she learnt that Dr Pathak had arranged for them to attend the Kumbh Mela and that when she entered the water, it was beyond her wildest dream.
"Dr Pathak and the Sulabh International have totally changed our lives and we will forever be grateful. Not only have they liberated us, but they have gone further and brought us to perform this ritual and dine with Hindu priests," she said with her voice full of emotion. Ms Dolly who is pursuing an undergraduate degree said that she is the first person in her clan to perform the Kumbh Mela.
"I consider myself very lucky to be here. Such rituals are usually done by the elderly and so for someone of my age to come and perform is nothing short of a miracle and I consider Dr Pathak as God sent," she said. The presence of the 100 ladies at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad caught the attention of people international and police officers.
If I was ever allowed to describe what it must have felt for the 100 ladies to walk the 500 meters from their campsite to the Holy River. After centuries of discrimination, they took and washed all the dirt away.
Source : http://dailynews.co.tz/index.php/features/popular-features/15192-the-kumbh-mela-biggest-gathering-on-earth