The festival of the Kumbh Mela is based on the ancient Hindu teachings that describes the earliest days of
the universe. Exact versions differ but one common theme holds throughout:
There was a time when the Devas, the demi-gods, were under the influence of a curse that made them
cowardly and weak. Brahma, the Creator God, advised them to churn the cosmic ocean (Samundra Manthan)
in search of Amrit, a nectar that makes those who consume it immortal. The gods sought help from
the demons in order to succeed in their mission. And in return for their help, the gods made an
agreement to share the nectar equally.
The cosmic ocean was churned using Vasuki, the King of the Serpents, as a rope around the
churning rod Mount Mandara, with gods on one side and demons on the other. Eventually
Dhanwantari, the divine healer, arose from the ocean with the vessel (Kumbh) containing nectar
in his hands.
On seeing the nectar, the demi-gods became anxious over what would happen if the demons drank
their share; so they fled with the vessel. A great chase ensued and for twelve days and nights
(equivalent to twelve human years) they battled in the sky. The gods finally overpowered the
demons in this primeval tug of war, but before they succeeded, some drops of the nectar fell to four
places on Earth: the Indian cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.
The Maha Kumbh Mela (literally translating to big pot fair) is a time when Sadhus, pilgrims
and devotees converge to commemorate this divine event. Hindus believe that within the period of
the Kumbh Mela the water of the Ganges turns into nectar in the place where it fell. By bathing
in the Holy River they will be able to cleanse their souls and - if immortality takes effect - be
able to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach enlightenment.