In India, since ancient times, various forms of nature like rivers, mountains, and trees have been deemed Gods. In this course, continually flowing rivers served as a lifeline and are given immense importance. In simpler words, human existence demonstrates their gratitude towards rivers through Aartis’ on the riverbanks in which people participate to show their devotion towards the rivers. At places, these numbers are in hundreds, at others may reach several thousand and on special days the participants for these rituals gather in lakhs.
Likewise, in Tirathraj Prayag Aartis’ are performed on the banks of Ganga, Yamuna and at Sangam with great admiration, deep-rooted honor and devotion. In Prayag, Prayagraj Mela Authority and various other communities make grand arrangements for these Aartis. Lakhs of devotees take part on these occasions on special festive days. The Aartis’ are performed in the mornings and evenings in which Batuks (Priests), normally 5 to 7 in numbers chants hymns with great fervour, holding meticulously designed lamps and worship the Ganga, the Yamuna and the Sangam with utmost devotion. The lamps held by the batuks represent the importance of panchtatva. On one hand, flames of the lamps signify bowing to the waters of the sacred rivers and on the other, the holy fumes emanating from the lamps appear to play the mystic of heaven on earth.
Prayagraj Kumbh comprises of many rituals including bathing ritual, which by far is the most significant rituals performed at Kumbh. Millions of pilgrims take part in the Kumbh bathing ritual at the Triveni Sangam. Performing this sacred ritual is in accordance with the belief that by submerging oneself in the holy waters, one is purged of all their sins, release themselves and their ancestors from the cycle of rebirth and ultimate attainment of Moksha. Along with the bathing ritual, the pilgrims also worship on the banks of the holy river and participate in discourses from various sadhus and saints.
Although taking the dip in the sacred waters on all days of Prayagraj Kumbh beginning from Makar Sankranti (first day of the month of Magh, when the Sun enters Capricorn) is considered holy, yet there are some specific auspicious bathing dates. There are magnificent processions of saints and their disciples, and members of various Akharas (religious orders) take part in the ritual of Shahi Snan also known as ‘Rajyogi Snan’ at the start of Kumbh. Shahi Snan is the central highlight of Kumbh Mela and the most important part of the celebration. Only after the Shahi Snan people are allowed to take the holy bath, in the belief that the people will get the added advantage of the essence of holy deeds and thoughts of the holy saints by taking the holy dip after them.
Kalpvas, at the sacred confluence at Prayag during Kumbh holds a special significance. According to ‘Brahma Purana’ and ‘Padma Purana’, the period of Kalpvas is from Ekadashi of the full moon in the Paush month up to ‘Maghi Ekadashi’. Maharshi Dattatreya outlines the ritual of Kalpvas in detail in the ‘Padma Purana’. According to the scripture, a Kalpvasi has to observe the 21 rules through mind, speech, and action. These rules are as follows:
Among all the rituals celibacy, fasting, offering prayers, satsang, donation and Veni Daan hold special significance.
‘Brahmacharya’ (The practise of celibacy): ‘Brahmacharya’ means living as ‘Bramha’, meaning evolving oneself into being the Bramha. In common parlance, renunciation of desires is ‘brahmacharya’ like luxury and substance indulgence, usage of oil-rich foods and sexual desire are the main elements for compliance to Bhrahamcharya.
Fasting (Vrat): Fasting is the most important part of Kaplvas. During Kumbh special significance is given on fasting on specific days. Vrat may be divided into two categories, namely; Nitya and Kamya. ‘Nitya’ Vrat signifies the fasting observed for the love of the divine, without any ambition. This inspires spiritual upliftment. Whereas, ‘Kamya’ Vrat is for procurement of any desired result.
Absolute observance of all ten aspects of dharma is necessary during the practice of fasting. Manu has described these ten dharmas to be:
Patience, Forgiveness,Selflessness,Not to steal,Physical purity, Control of senses, Wisdom, Knowledge, Speaking the truth and >Non-violence
As denoted in the shloka:
‘Dhrutih kshama damoasteym shauchmindriynigrah
Dhivridha satyamkrodhi dashank dharmlakshanam’
Praying to Gods (Dev Pujan): It is believed that during the Kumbh Mela the Gods visit the banks of Sangam and meditiating in their honor with complete devotion brings well-being. The devotion of the worshipper is paramount in Dev Pujan because if the devotee is not completely immersed in the ceremony, then pujan will not be fruitful.
The practice of Daan: Daan during Kumbh holds great significance. Here, both the donator and the receiver of alms are benefitted. Therefore, donation during Kumbh is considered greater than relinquishment. Gau-daan (donation of cow), Vastra Daan (donating of clothes), Dravya Daan (donating of money), Swarn Daan (donation of gold) has immense significance. Samrat Harshavardhan used to donate all his possessions every twelve years during Kumbh.
Satsang: Literal meaning of Satsang is to be in the company of truth. During Kumbh, the devotees should stay in close connection with the saints and intellectuals, should listen to their discourses, and offer them services. In order to liberate oneself from the feeling of selfishness and to inculcate equality to proceed on the path of attaining higher self.
Shraadh and oblation (Tarpan): Shraadh means offering of Pinda with complete devotion that can only be performed by a priest. There are specialized priests available at Prayag only for this purpose as they have the genealogy of the devotee performing the shraadh. However, the Tarpan ritual may be performed by anyone while chanting the specific mantras.
Veeni Daan: In Prayagraj, ‘Veeni Daan’ holds a great significance in the Kumbh Mela. This ritual is performed by shaving one’s hair completely and leaving just the ‘Shikha’ (top knot) and offering it to the Ganga. It is believed that sin resides at the base of hair, and the Sangam, during Kumbh is the best place to absolve one from all their sins. It is believed that a Kalpvasi must do veni daan in Prayagraj during the Kumbh Mela.
Moreover, a Kalpvasi is supposed to wear only clean silk or woollen, white or yellow clothes. It is believed that leading this kind of life cleanses the body and soul.
At Triveni Sangam, numerous sparkling oil lamps fill the innermost conscience of the devotees with a heavenly feeling. Thousands of lighted Diyas (lamps) spread the light of spirituality across the environment in such a manner that the waves of religious fervour and devotion affect even the most atheist of people.
Verbal meaning of ‘Deep daan’ is the offering of lighted earthen lamps at specific places such as the river banks, near temples, religious trees, in forests or on any other sacred location. Devotees offer lighted earthen lamps (Deepak) in a specific month, at specific places and on specific occasions. For example, in the month of Kartik, Deep daan is done near the sacred Tulsi plant. On festivals like ‘Ganga Dussehra’, ‘Dev Deepavali’ ‘Magha Mela’, or ‘Kumbh Mela’, devotees make a vessel from leaves on which a lamp made of wheat flour filled with oil along with a cotton strand is lighted and floated on water as an offering of gratitude towards the river. Deep daan is also offered in thousands of numbers by boats by some devotees depending on their devotion, ability and commitment.
Floating lighted Diyas on flowing water seem like twinkling stars reflecting divine brilliance in the Ganga. During Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, this presents a mesmerising scene.
Triveni Sangam is the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati. The Saraswati River is said to be the invisible river that is said to surface only during Kumbh with the sacred chanting of hymns and elucidations representing knowledge. Sangam is said to be the basis of the congregation of millions of Pilgrims. In Mahabharata, it is stated that around sixty crore ten thousand pilgrimages are found in Prayag, and sangam is considered to be the base of most of the sixty crore pilgrimages. As per mythology, the pilgrimages are said to be brought to Sangam by the rivers themselves and that any spot where the holy water of these rivers reach is in itself a pilgrimage destination.
Sangam has seen pilgrims and sages worshipping at the banks of the holy river since time immemorial. Millions of pilgrims visiting the Sangam during Maha Kumbh, Kumbh and Ardha Kumbh are the living proof of the spirit of Sangam. Various texts have defined Sangam, among which Bramha Purana refers to achieving the benefits of Ashvamedha Yajna by bathing at Sangam and Matsya Purana refers to achieving the benefits of the combined worship of ten thousand pilgrims. Skanda Purana has detailed the benefits of the various Snaans (holy baths) during the holy months of January to March. These include the Maghi Poornima, Basant Panchmi, Mauni Amavasya and Makar Sankranti.
The changing times have had an impact on the course and the nature of the Kumbh festival. The rituals of “Parikrama” (circumambulation) have had a direct impact of such changes. Today, the ritual that has been an integral part of “Kumbh” since time immemorial has mostly lost its existence.
In order to revive this historical ritual of utmost significance, the Shri Akhada Parishad and Mela Authority have re-mapped the “Parikrama” path and further plans to develop the temples that appear along this path. The goal here is to re-establish a historical ritual while providing an opportunity to the new generation to acquaint themselves with the rich history of this event of cultural, religious and spiritual significance.
“Dwadash Madhav” temples and other significant temples that appear en route of “Prayag Panchkoshi Parikrama” are presented below:
Apart from these twelve Madhvas, one more Madhva in Prayag has been illustrated in various texts. This Madhavas is said to be located at the roots of Akshayavat.