Marlboro Institute professor, sociologist, and anthropologist Tulasi Srinivas writes about the Hindu pilgrimage Kumbh Mela, which happens every 12 years in India, though this year amid a COVID-19 surge.
Srinivas describes the history and traditions of the world’s largest religious gathering along the Ganges River, which survived wars, revolution, famine, and epidemics, its biggest challenge, in the past.
The festival celebrates the Hindu myth of Samudra manthan – the churning of the cosmological ocean by the gods and demons to get the nectar of immortality, known as amrita.
In the fight that ensued for the amrita, several drops of the elixir fell to Earth, sanctifying the waters where they landed. The word Kumbh refers not only to the pot of nectar spilled on its way to the heavens, but also to the astrological sign of Aquarius, the water carrier, the time when the Kumbh Mela takes place. Hindus believe that bathing in the sacred Ganges on the auspicious days of the festival leads to salvation from the endless cycle of reincarnation.