The History of the Maha Kumbh Mela

Updated November 12, 2013Posted by Jaganatha Das


The first recorded history of large groups of people holding a religious gathering here came from the dairy of a Chinese traveler dating back to 500 AD. In the diary, he described thousands of people coming to the opening day of the month-long festival hoping to be blessed with some of the wisdom of the Gurus.

Some come to bathe in the holy rivers, while others come to make offerings for the peaceful afterlife of their dead ancestors. Often, they arrive with a small bundle of some of their most needed personal effects or a small statue of their most sacred deity. Whatever their purpose is, individuals often simply want a chance to share in the experience. Soon, families and whole villages will join together creating new relationships and strengthening old ones. Hindus believe that one of the ways to gain merit or "good karma" is to go on pilgrimage to some holy place at least once in a lifetime.

According to the ancient scriptures, the huge river bank beside the city of Allahabad, also known as "Prayag", is one such place. During Kumba Mela, a giant tent city is erected below the great, red fort at Allahabad. On this vast open plain, the multitudes will come together to live, pray, and celebrate. The 2013 festival is expected to be the largest Mela ever to be held, with over 30 million people expected on the main bathing day.

The Roots of Indian Culture
The Indus Valley The Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization emerged about 2500 B.C. as a sophisticated urban society with a system of writing and measurements. A thousand years later, Aryans brought from the north a culture and rituals that later became a basis of Hinduism. About 320 B.C. the Maurya family took power influenced by the statecraft of Alexander the Great. Their empire peaked between 273 and 232 B.C. under Ashoka, who made Buddhism the state religion. Pillars and boulders inscribed with his royal edicts still stand.
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Dynasty The classical period of Hindu art, literature, and Science (A.D. 320 to 647) took root during the Gupta dynasty, reaching its peak during the reign of Chandragupta II (A.D. 375 to 415). Building on the campaigns of his father, Samudragupta, he extended his influence farther southward. The Gupta rulers promoted Brahmanism, an early form of Hinduism, throughout their realm. Though the last strong Gupta king, Skandagupta, held off the invading Huns in the fifth century, the empire soon collapsed.
Sultanate of Delhi
The Delhi Sultanate One invading force after another plagued and plundered India from the 5th to the 13th centuries, an era of political turmoil and shifting boundries. As Islam spread, a Muslim sultanate was established in Delhi in 1206. lt soon expanded south, absorbing many Hindu kingdoms, including the domain of the powerful Yadavas dynasty. In 1526 Babur, a Muslim chieiftain from Central Asia, defeated the last Delhi sultan and established the Mogul Empire that would shape the subcontinent for the next 200 years.
Mogul Empire
The Mougal Empire In the 1500s Europeans began vying Arab merchants for India's sea routes. Europeans established ports like Goa and Pondicherry and made trade agreements with powerful Mogul emperors such as Akbar, Ruling from 1556 to 1605, he set a tone of religious tolerance; his son and grandson presided over an era glorious in art and architecture. Great-grandson Aurangzeb expanded the empire, which held as many as 150 million subjects at its height before ebbing after his death in 1707.
British Expansion
British Expansion Taking advantage of the lack of central power in the 1700s, the British East India Company began taking over much of the subcontinent, manipulating conflicts between local rulers and imposing taxes. It's strategy is illustrated by the 1799 partition of the state of Mysore. The company gave some territory to princely states, gaining political influence in exchange for protection, and it claimed the rest of the state for itself. In 1857 sepoys, or Indian soldiers, rebelled against social and religious indignities. Civil discontent spread the Indian Revolt, suppressed in 1859.
Road to Independence
Road to Independence Britain seized control of the East India Company's holdings in 1858. Indians became increasingly critical of British rule and it's inequality. After World War I, political activist Mohandas Gandhi sent out a cry for independence through nonviolent disobedience, and millions answered. In 1940 the Muslim League, afraid of a Hindu run government, called for an independent Muslim state. After massive riots between Muslims and Hindus in 1946 and 1947, Indian and British leaders agreed to partition the country; in August 19th 1947 India and Pakistan gained independence. In 1971 Muslims in East Pakistan broke away to form of Bangladesh.
Thanks to National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.


Here is an old map of the Mela Grounds

Old Map

India from space..