Held every four years by rotation at Haridwar, Ujjain, Nasik and Allahabad, 2013 is the year of the Allahabad Kumbh Mela. Thus each of these places gets the charge of organising the Kumbh Mela every twelve years. Among them, Haridwar and Allahabad hold the ‘Ardh Kumbh Mela’ every six years. The last Ardh Kumbh Mela was held in the year 2007 at Allahabad. Around 70 million pilgrims participated on the 45th day. The one before that was held at at Haridwar in the year 2001 where 30 million people had gathered. The Kumbh Mela taking place at Allahabad this time is the Maha Kumbh Mela.
Considered the most sacred of all, the Maha Kumbh Mela also happens to be the world’s oldest and largest spiritual gathering. It is in fact, one rare opportunity for all to be able to witness some of India’s oldest and most sacred rituals. These were passed down from one generation to another from the Maharajas of India, performed by a special section of elite Brahmin priests, and witnessed by monks, sages and sadhus. In fact, many of these holy men and women do not appear in public except of an occasion like the Maha Kumbh Mela.
The place where the Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 will be celebrated is known as the Prayag Raj. This is where, since the time of the Rig Vedas, ancient rituals and rites were performed, near the confluence of rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of the Kumbh Mela. Thousands of devotees take a holy dip in the Ganges on this day and so starts the 55-day festival. The third important day of the six bathing days at the Kumbh Mela is Mauni Amavasya after Makar Sankranti and Paush Purnima. After Makar Sankranti, it is the second Shahi Snan of the mela.
This year, extra forces have been employed to keep a vigil on the mela grounds. More than 15,000 security officials have been drawn from Central paramilitary forces. These include the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and the Provincial Armed Constabulary as well as the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). Mela administrators are strict about not allowing anyone to take more than a dip in the river. Washing clothes or throwing garbage in the river water is strictly not allowed. Regular visitors believe that one dip in the holy river has the power to change a life forever.