Allahabad city was an important cantonment during the British Raj and it contains some beautiful remnants of colonial architecture as well as Mughal architecture, such as the Allahabad Fort, the largest of Akbar’s three forts, and the Khusro Bagh – the tomb of Khusro, the elder brother of Emperor Shah Jahan. Allahabad is rather untapped by tourism but it offers an authentic taste of history, culture and Hindu religion.
It is most famous for the Maha Kumbh Mela celebration which occurs every 12 years and is the largest gathering of human beings on earth. Allahabad, or ‘city of God’, stands at the confluence of two of India's holiest rivers, the Ganga and the Yamuna. The river's confluence is called Sangam and this is the venue of many sacred fairs and rituals which attract thousands of pilgrims who come to bath in these waters throughout the year. This number swells to millions during the world-famous Kumbh Mela.
Even when there are no festivals the sandy banks of the river to the east of Allahabad city are filled with pilgrims, and visitors can hire a boat to take them to where the rivers merge to see the visible line between the different coloured rivers. The last Allahabad Kumbh Mela fell in January 2013 during which an estimated 130 million people attended. The next Kumbh Mela will not take place in Allahabad until 2025.
The History of the Maha Kumbh
The first written evidence of the Kumbh Melas in India can be found in the accounts of the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang or Xuanzang (602 – 664 CE), who visited India between 629 – 645 CE, during the reign of King Harshavardhan. However, it is believed that the observance dates back several millennia, to ancient India's Vedic period when the first river festivals are thought to have been organised. The origin of the Kumbh can be found in one of the popular myths of the creation of the world in Hindu mythology, the Samudra Manthan (churning of the ocean of milk), which finds mention in ancient Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavata Purana, the Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The myth behind the festival
The Kumbh Mela is a festival that celebrates and commemorates the triumph of the gods over the demons in the battle for Amrit, the nectar of immortality. It is said that during the battle four drops of nectar fell to the earth. A drop each is supposed to have fallen at the cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain. Over the centuries pilgrims have celebrated this triumph of good over evil by bathing in the rivers near the four locations where the Amrit is said to have fallen. It is believed that taking a dip in the Sangam (the holy confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati) at Allahabad during the Kumbh Mela will cleanse one of all their sins and grant an escape from the endless cycle of reincarnation by paving a path for salvation or Moksha.
The relevance of the number 12
According to the myth, once the churning of the ocean of milk yielded Amrit, or nectar of immortality, the gods and demons fought for its control and possession for 12 days and 12 nights. These 12 days and nights are believed to amount to 12 human years, thereby making the number 12 extremely significant and pivotal in the occurrence of the Maha Kumbh Mela. It is believed that at these intervals of 12 years, the confluence waters acquire the properties of the Amrit, absolving one of all sins and granting Moksha or salvation.
The science behind the Maha Kumbh
The Maha Kumbh cycle of 12 years synchronises with the different stages of the sun spot cycle which is known to have a very similar cyclic period of approximately 11.1 years. The sun spot cycle is known to enhance the electro-magnetic field (EMF) of the Earth and its environment which in turn affects the bio-system. Of the many effects of the EM field, one is reported to be to inhibit the regulatory systems of the body, like the nervous, endocrine, circulatory and respiratory, giving rise to a condition quite similar to the inhibitory effects of meditation. In view of this naturally induced meditation physiology, spiritual practice during the Maha Kumbh is highly encouraged.
Features in the following itineraries
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Matthew Annable, Rajasthan, India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka