Kumbha Mela

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati

Who is playing the flute in the middle of the space of consciousness?
At the bathing place of the confluence of the Ganges-Jamuna rivers.
This world has arisen spontaneously from the rhythm of the flute.
The sound vibrates upwards from the trikuti,
And, hearing the sound, the senses dissolve in divine perception.
Kabir

The flute player is Krishna who represents consciousness. The sound of the flute symbolizes nada (subtle sound and prana). Perception of the sound is so blissful that it spontaneously attracts a spiritually awakened person towards divine consciousness.

This song is a symbolic reference to the awakening of the ajna chakra (trikuti); it is also a reference to the Kumbha Mela which was held recently at Prayag near Allahabad. This religious festival has great significance in terms of yoga. The following is a brief explanation.

Definition

The word kumbha literally means 'pitcher, pot, jar or chalice'. Specifically, it is the name of the mythical jar of amrita (nectar, ambrosia, the drink of immortality) which gives satchidananda (divine bliss, knowledge and consciousness).

The word mela means 'fair, festival or congregation'. Thus the kumbha mela is the festival that commemorates and invokes the eternal source of divine experience that is the birthright of all human beings. In yogic terms, this source is called the sahasrara. Amrita flows down from this source into individual experience via the bindu to all the chakras that form the superstructure of man. It is the nourisher of human life in all its aspects. The purpose of yoga is to allow an individual to 'taste' this amrita.

Origins

The exact origins of the Kumbha Mela are lost in the depths of time, though certainly it was instigated by yogis who intended it to be an external expression of deeper spiritual experience. They intended that the festival should have both ritualistic and symbolic implications. Originally, it was known as the 'kumbha yoga' because of its yogic significance, and was attended mainly by sadhus and sannyasins in small numbers. Gradually it became known as the 'kumbha mela' and has reached the scale today where a mighty stream of ten million people converged together for the most important day. It is without doubt one of the largest religious congregations in the world.

The festival is widely mentioned in the ancient Indian scriptures, including the Mahabharata and the Matsya, Kurma, Padma and Vamana Puranas. It is described as the tirtharaja (the greatest of all pilgrimage centres).

The place

The mela is celebrated every twelve years at Prayag at the sangam (confluence) of the rivers Ganges and Jamuna. It lasts for over a month. It is said that bathing at this special place during the auspicious period of Kumbha Mela brings special spiritual merit and even moksha (liberation).

In yogic symbology, the river Ganges represents the pingala nadi- the active, extroverted aspect of man's being. The waters of the Ganges are yellow and this too is a symbol of the pingala. The river Jamuna represents the ida nadi - the introverted, mental aspect of man's being. Its waters are blue and this is the symbolic colour of the ida.

The junction of the two rivers symbolizes the merging of the ida and pingala in the spiritual life of a yoga aspirant.

At Prayag, the two rivers are also said to meet another river- the mythical Saraswati. It is said to flow underground and connect the Ganges with the Jamuna. The Saraswati represents the sushumna nadi - the path of the kundalini, the divine consciousness in man. The Saraswati lies in between the Ganges and the Jamuna, just as the sushumna is midway between the ida and pingala, centred between introversion and extroversion, and yet beyond both. The Saraswati is underground (hidden) symbolizing the fact that the sushumna is very subtle. It cannot be detected by normal experience; it can only be known and perceived by the subtle perception of a purified mind. After Prayag, the waters of the three rivers mix and flow as one; there is no difference between the ida and the pingala, the outside and the inside world. This is divine consciousness.

In yoga, Prayag represents the ajna chakra, the centre of guru-disciple communication. It is also called the trikuti (the place of the junction of three) and the triveni (the convergence of three nadis or rivers) as well as many other names. Often the ajna chakra is called the prayag. This king of pilgrim centres is near Allahabad, but it is also located in your own being. Bathing at Prayag means dissolving one's mind in higher consciousness at the ajna chakra. This is the 'divine bath' of bliss.

The physical location of the confluence of the two rivers is also a psychic centre. It is a place that is conducive to higher states of awareness. Merely being in the locality at the time of Kumbha Mela, whether in mind or body or both, helps to raise one's level of consciousness. Real benefits are most likely to arise only if the aspirant prepares the receptivity of the mind-body by thorough purification. This means, in essence, the practice of yoga. The scriptures have specified twenty-one rules of conduct, all of which should be practised by those who wish to attend the mela and gain real benefit. Under these circumstances, the psychic-pranic forces at Prayag will be able to bring changes in one's perception and consciousness.

The time

The mela starts on paush poornima (the full moon day in the Hindu month of paush). In the recent mela this day was the 5th of January. The mela ends on Shivaratri (the holy night of Shiva) which came on the 16th of February. The two most important bathing days are makara sankranti and mouni amavasya.

Makara Sankranti (the conjunction of the sun with the tropic of Capricorn) is celebrated every year on the 14th of January. It signifies the day when the sun can be clearly seen to move in a higher are through the sky. In western tradition, this event is celebrated on Christmas day, the 25th of December. It is a matter of choice. The movement of the sun to the south from midsummer to midwinter is called the dakshinayana (the southern path). The days become progressively shorter and the weather colder; it symbolizes spiritual ignorance and the negative aspects of man's nature. The movement of the sun from south to north from midwinter to midsummer is called the utterayana (the northern path). The days get longer and the weather warmer (in the northern hemisphere). This symbolizes the progressive awakening of jnanam (spiritual knowledge). Makara Sankranti symbolizes the turning point in one's life where a little 'light' is seen in the darkness of ignorance. The dakshinayana represents the pravritti marg (path of worldly entanglements and attachments), whilst the utterayana represents the nivritti marg (the yogic path towards spiritual awareness). Thus, Makara Sankranti symbolizes the start of yogic or spiritual life.

Makara Sankranti occurs every year, but it has much greater significance every twelfth year when it coincides with the Kumbha Mela. The reason will be explained shortly.

Mouni Amavasya (the new moon day of silence) is the most important bathing day (this year on the 19th January). It is so called because by tradition the sadhus in attendance keep a vow of mouna (no speaking) indicative of the awakening of unspeakable jnanam. Nothing can be said and nothing needs to be said. On this day both the sun and the moon become progressively brighter. The sun starts to become more intense on Makara Sankranti and the moon is brightest on this night of the full moon.

In yogic terminology, the sun symbolizes the pingala nadi and the moon the ida nadi. Progress on the path of yoga requires simultaneous development, harmony and expression of both of these spheres of man's being. Development of one without the other leads to disharmony and spiritual darkness. Balance and awakening of both ida and pingala together is symbolized by the simultaneous increase in the brightness of both the moon and the sun on the day of Mouni Amavasya. It leads to the rising of the kundalini (spiritual energy and knowledge).

On the day of Mouni Amavasya, the moon and sun also lie in the same constellation - Capricorn. The sun stays in this constellation for one month, whilst the moon stays for two and a quarter days. This also indicates that the ida and pingala are being awakened and expressed simultaneously. This happens every year.

To bring balanced development of the ida (introverted) and pingala (extroverted) aspects in spiritual life there has to be guidance. It requires the grace of a guru. The guru is symbolized by the planet Brihaspati (Jupiter). During the day of Mouni Amavasya in the specific period of the Kumbha Mela, whilst the sun and the moon line up in the zodiac sign of Capricorn, Jupiter lies in kumbha rashi (Aries). This occurs once every twelve years and fixes the time of the kumbha Mela. It is a rare event, just as the meeting of a sadguru is a rare event. It is also interesting to note that by tradition a disciple is is expected to spend twelve years under the guidance his or her guru.

Kubha rashi is the zodiac sign of bliss; this is symbolized by 'the bearer' in western astrology, a man carrying water in a jar. The secret is that he is not carrying water, but amrita - the nectar of the gods. The position of Jupiter in this zodiac indicates that the guru transmits divine knowledge and bliss to his disciple. Thus Mouni Amavasya symbolizes the auspicious time when the spiritual balances and develops the ida (moon) and pingala (sun) under the watchful and benign eye of the guru (Jupiter).