The story from the Bhagavada Purana, of the tussle between the gods and asuras for the Amrit Kalash, the pot of nectar of immortality that emerged from the churning of the milky ocean, is seminal to the Kumbh festivities, writes PRANAV KHULLAR…
In the tussle, the nectar spilled in four places — Haridwar, Allahabad, Nasik and Ujjain — the venues of the triennial Kumbh and the once-in-12-years Purna Kumbh.
The story is a metaphor for the inner struggle between our nobler and baser instincts. The nobler, higher mind when invoked will bestow the nectar of wisdom and immortality, the ability to discriminate between the real and the transient. When the baser, lower mind is engaged with, it will only generate the ‘poison’ of illusion and desire, creating its own web of perceived ‘immortality’ where the temporary is taken to be the permanent.
Which option we choose is a matter of free will, but the great Kumbh tradition seeks to continually remind us of the call of the higher mind, of how the human body itself is the kumbh, the pot, and how the churning of desires within is required for the nectar of knowledge to be generated.
The ancients set down an elaborate 12-year cycle for a meeting ground of saints and the vast lay majority, sannyasis and seekers, as an attempt to refocus and reorient the mind towards nobler instincts. This 12-year cycle was set according to planetary configurations, felt by the ancients to be spiritually beneficial, and supposed to create a highly charged matrix of energy to propel the mind to search for deeper meaning.
The Kumbh became an opportunity to pause and reflect, to reassess life’s priorities. Bathing in the Ganga is symbolic of washing away the ‘old’ mind and its way of thinking, and beginning afresh with a ‘new’ mind and attitude. The Kumbh helps the aam aadmi to transform by mingling with renunciates and monks in an ambience of devotion and vairagya.
The 12-year cycles of the Kumbh spread over four different pilgrim centres, ensuring a huge religio-spiritual Kumbh congregation every three years — is a great opportunity to seek deeper insight through pilgrimage and satsang. Since every Kumbh congregation seeks to replicate the triumph of the gods or the higher mind over asuras or lower mind in the quest for the nectar of immortality, a dip mirrors this yearning for the inner Self.
Pilgrims dive deep into themselves through this bath, to come up with a moment that takes them beyond themselves, something that will see them through the trials of life. It is the transition moment from the individual i-centric point to a collective whole, where distinctions between you-and-I blur to finally become one whole.
The Purna Kumbh at Allahabad started on January 14, on Makara Sankranti.