The episode of Samudra Manthan (churning of the mythological ocean, the Ksheer Sagar) is mentioned in various ancient Indian scriptures (eg. – Srimad Bhagavat, Vishnu Purana, Mahabharata and the Ramayana) which narrates how after the Gods lost their potency, the thought of churning the Ksheer Sagar to obtain Amrit (the nectar of immortality) the occurred them. They realized soon that the feat couldn’t be accomplished without the help of their adversaries, the Asuras (demons). A provisional arrangement was made between the two with the promise of sharing the Amrit.
After the task was accomplished a fight ensued between the two groups over the possession of the Kumbh (a pitcher) containing the divine nectar. They fought for twelve days and nights, which equates to twelve human years. While the fight was on, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu, the Garuda (a celestial bird) flew away with the Kumbh.
During this flight some drops of Amrit spilled over at four places on earth namely Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik. Commemorating this celestial and mythical event the Kumbh Mela is held four times every twelve years at these four places.
On the occasion of these Kumbh Melas, Devout Hindus come in pursuit of purging their souls and washing their sins away by taking a holy dip in the sacred waters of the rivers, on the banks of which the abovementioned places are located. It is believed that during this time the water from these rivers turns into purifying nectar allowing the devotees to cleanse their souls as they bathe.
Kumbh Mela is probably the largest religious gathering anywhere around the world. Though all the Kumbh Melas are attended by millions of pilgrims, the name of Haridwar comes at the top of all Indian pilgrimages. Therefore the Kumbh Mela of Haridwar enjoys exceptional media coverage and Tourist traffic. The place is termed as the gateway to heaven in Hindu mythological scriptures.
The last Kumbh Mela was celebrated in Haridwar from Makar Sankranti i.e. 14 January 2010 to Shakh Purnima Snan, 28 April 2010.
For this last Kumbh Mela more than a staggering 7 million Hindus arrived. After three months of dancing, the appeal – full Bath of the Sadhus, Nagas and other sects takes Place. To bathe is to gain immortality, and millions do. The atmosphere of the scene is like a rave, whistles blowing, crowds everywhere. But with their thick dreadlocks and ash-covered bodyguards (Nagas), the Sadhus steal the show.
Apart from being one of the most auspicious religious event for all the Hindus worldwide, the Kumbh Mela at Haridwar is always a grand visual feast, attracting visitors, media, filmmakers, correspondents, writers and the common curious onlookers from the world over. The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board plays a major part in providing basic amenities to the visitors.