By Annie Vangsnes, CFCA correspondent
Kumbh Mela in India is the largest spiritual gathering on Earth.
The celebration comes to Allahabad, home to 617 children and families in the CFCA program, every 12 years.
It is a time for Hindu pilgrims across the country and world to gather to take a dip where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet. Bathing in the waters during the festival is believed to bring Hindus holiness and salvation.
An estimated 100 million people are expected to bathe in the waters during this Kumbh Mela.
For sponsored children and their families taking part, the celebration takes much planning and preparation.
Although the festival lasts almost two months, Suman, the mother of sponsored youth Vibhor, said she prepares to have guests for the six main auspicious days.
“Ten days before, we start preparation for the Mela, like cleanliness and making sweets and different dishes,” Suman said. “We also purchase new clothes to wear after taking a bath in the holy river.”
The celebration begins in January with bathing in the rivers on Makar Sankranti, the first day of the festival. Spiritual activities continue through the end of Kumbh Mela on March 10.
Sadly, a rail station stampede at this year’s festival killed 36 people and injured more than 30 others. The incident happened on the festival’s busiest day when some 40 million people bathe in the waters.
The Kumbh Mela story dates back to early Hindu mythology. It is said that after gods and demons fought over the sacred nectar of immortality, several drops of the elixir fell into the cities where the festival is celebrated: Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.
Suman said the entire city of Allahabad, as well as its many visitors, are in a festive mood for the celebration.
“All day long one can hear chanting from holy books and songs, which greatly refreshes the body and soul,” she said.
Mahima, the mother of sponsored youth Vaishali, has participated in the festival twice and enjoys the multitude of activities it provides.
“We got a chance to visit the tents of many Hindu saints and received blessings from them,” she said. “We also witnessed many foreigners come and take a dip in the holy river and also offer prayers on the banks of the river.”
Because Kumbh Mela lasts for 55 days, shopping stalls, exhibitions and fairs open up and the government sets up open theaters depicting religious plays. All of this provides new economic opportunities for the area.
Despite battling the crowds during the festival, participating in it holds a great deal of religious significance, Mahima said.
“It’s believed sinners earn forgiveness,” she said, “when they bathe in the holy water of the rivers.”
The festival is also known in India and around the world for bringing people from diverse economic and social backgrounds together in a spirit of unity.