About five crore pilgrims are expected to make their way to Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh during the month-long Kumbh Mela, taking place in the city after 12 years. Considered the largest spiritual gatherings in the world, kumbh melas take place once every 12 years in each of the cities of Varanasi, Allahabad, Nashik, and Ujjain.
Pilgrims and tourists come to the festival, which began on 22 April and will go on until 21 May, to take a dip in the holy River Shipra (also Kshipra), along the banks of which the town of Ujjain is located. According to legend, samudra manthan or the churning of the oceans by gods and demons yielded a pot of amrit, the nectar of immortality. Drops fell into holy rivers at four places where the Kumbh Mela is now held. Bathing in these rivers is believed to cleanse the soul and free it from the cycle of birth and death. While all days of the festival are auspicious, there are some particularly special snaan or bath days, determined by astrology. These are listed on the festival website.
The mela is spread over an area of 3,000 hectares. Camps house different akharas or sects of sadhus who come from around India. A sea of people are dressed in shades of saffron and smeared with ash. The striking tikas they wear reveal which sect they belong to. Various akharas organise cultural events including music, dance, spiritual lectures, and sport performances. In the evenings, the centre of action is Ram Ghat, where an aarti is organised.
On the sidelines of the kumbh, many pilgrims also visit prominent sacred places in Ujjain, known to be a city of temples. Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga and Kal Bhairav temple are the most visited shrines.
Appeared in the May 2016 issue as “Temple City in the Spotlight”.
Details on the Ujjain Kumbh Mela can be found at www.simhasthujjain.in. The festival also has a free Android app available on Google Play. Accommodations in every price bracket are available for visitors.
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