THE COSMIC CONFIGURATION
According to astrologers, the 'Kumbh Fair' takes place when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries. The particular year when the Kumbha Mela is held at any one of the four holy places is determined, with reference to an almanac.
At Prayag, the period is the Hindu month of Magha (January-February) and the highest merit attached is to the bath taken on the new moon day, when the Jupiter is in Aries and both the Sun and the Moon are in Capricorn.
At Hardwar, Kumbha is held in Phalgun and Chaitra, when the Sun passes to Aries and Jupiter is in Aquarius. The bath at Ujjain, on the bank of the river Kshipra is fixed for the month of Vatshakha, when these planets are in Libra.
At Nasik, on the banks of Godavari (Narmada), the function is timed to take place in Shravana, when the three planets are in Cancer. Thus, by rotation, the Kumbha Mela is held at these places.
In the case of Prayag and Hardwar, in between two Purna (full) Kumbha Melas, an intermediate one, called the Ardha (half) Kumbha is also held. The Ardha Kumbha Mela is held at Prayag and Hardwar in the years in which Purna Kumbha Mela is held at Ujjain and Nasik, respectively.
Every year in the month of Magha (January-February) a fair, known as Magha Mela, is held at Prayag at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the Saraswati and is attended by thousands. It begins on the Makara Sankranti, the last day of the preceding month Pausa.
The Magha Mela is replaced by Maha Kumbha Mela every twelfth year, when the Sun is in Aries and the planet Jupiter in Aquarius (Kumbha).
The ascetics and sadhus are an integral part of the Kumbh. One of the aims of all devout Hindus, who make a pilgrimage to the Kumbh, is to have an audience, 'darshan' of these holy men. By touching their feet and listening to them, their followers hope to gain spiritual enlightenment.
The most conspicuous sadhus at the Kumbh are the 'Nagas' or the naked sadhus. The 'Nagas' smear their bodies with ash and sport long, matted hair. Constant exposure to the elements and rigorous self-control makes them impervious to the extremes of hot and cold.
Besides the 'Nagas', there are several other types of sadhus-the 'Urdhwavahurs', who practice severe physical austerities and their bodies are usually emaciated and limbs shrivelled. There are the 'Parivajakas', who live under a vow of silence and go about tinkling little bells to get people out of their way. The 'Shirshasins' stand all 24 hours and sleep with their heads resting on a vertical pole attached to an oblong pole or meditate for long hours standing on their heads. Spending the entire month of Kumbh on the banks of Ganga, meditating, performing rituals and bathing thrice a day, are the 'kalpvasis'.
The main rite performed at the mela is the ritual bath. Orthodox Hindus, who give great importance to the performance of ritualistic actions, believe that a dip in the sacred waters on the auspicious day will cleanse them of all the evil. This ensures their salvation or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Ritual bathing is a public act and is performed in the open and ideally on the banks of a river or stream. It includes the complete submergence of the body under water and a libation to the sun. The most auspicious day for the ritual bath at Kumbh is on the day of the new moon.