How War, Corruption, Cheating, Greed and the Wish for Immortality created the Kumbh Mela – 21 Jan 13


At this very time, there is a big festival in India and we daily see news about it on TV and in the newspaper. The Kumbh Mela is currently taking place in Allahabad and millions of people are expected to visit. I would like to explain the story behind this for those of you who are not familiar with this biggest religious festival of the earth.

In Hindu scriptures you will find many stories about the fight of good against evil. The battles are fought by the gods, demi-gods and goddesses on the good side and the demons and devils on the evil side. One particular story is about their wish to drink the nectar that makes them immortal.

Both powers had got to know that you can get this nectar if you churn the ocean. Just as you churn milk in order to get butter, you would need to churn the ocean and you would get the nectar of immortality. How should they churn such a big ocean though? Which whisk would be big enough? They took a mountain and turned it around for this work. One snake, wrapped around, would be the substitute for the rope used for the actual churning. On one side the gods got into position for pulling and on the other side the demons. They pulled forth and back so that the ocean got churned.

When it was churning, a lot came out of the ocean and was distributed among the gods and demons. Finally they all got the reward for their efforts and the nectar of immortality emerged. Who should get it now? They all started fighting about it. Of course the gods did not want the demons to get the nectar and become immortal and they did not want to share – that would mean endless fighting without a winner. The gods had thus used the strength of the demons but wanted to have the reward all for themselves!

Anyway, the king of heaven, Indra, took the pot of nectar and ran away. While he was over the planet earth, he spilled a bit of it and the drops fell down on four places: in Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. This is how the Kumbh Mela is celebrated in these four places every twelve years – and thus happens every three years in another place. Whoever bathes in these places during the time of the festival is said to reach immortality himself.

Back to the story, one of the demons managed to get hold of the nectar and was celebrating his victory. Vishnu took the form of a woman and in this disguise distracted the demons and took the nectar back, telling them he would distribute it evenly to all. They got into two lines – demons in one and gods in the other and he started letting them drink. To the gods he actually gave the nectar with one hand but with the other hand he gave the demons alcohol. They thus got drunk and did not realize they were being cheated. Only one of them saw what was happening and switched lines. He managed to drink from the nectar of immortality!

Sun and moon, who were watching the whole spectacle, saw what had happened and told Vishnu about the clever demon. Vishnu immediately beheaded the demon. He was immortal though and was not amused that he had to walk around in two parts now! He was still alive but quite angry, especially with the sun and the moon who had told Vishnu what was going on. In his anger, he keeps on fighting with them until today and whenever he manages to swallow one of them, you will see either a sun eclipse or a moon eclipse on earth.

The gods however, now all immortal, managed to win a big victory over the demons. A victory full of cheating and unpleasant behavior from the sides of the gods but I anyway just see this as fiction. Religious people however who enjoy worshipping such gods!

Many of them are right now gathered in Allahabad at the Kumbh Mela – and now you know for what: to take a bath in order to get immortal, to cleanse yourself of any sins and fill yourself with virtues to get a ticket for heaven. Until now, I have not met anybody who became immortal of that. What happens instead is what I would like to write about in the next days.

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