Kumbh Mela the ‘Festival of the Pot’

Published: Tuesday, 15 January 2019


Travel south for about 120 miles from Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh in the north of India and you will reach the city of Prayagraj. Until last year Prayagraj was named Allahabad, a name given to the city by it’s Muslim rulers centuries ago. Last year the Hindu Government renamed the city. This year, from Tuesday 15th January until Monday March 4th Prayagraj will become possibly the most important city in India and a focus for Hindus across the world. This is because during this time the largest religious festival to be held anywhere on the planet, Kumbh Mela, will take place at the confluence of the river Ganges and Yamuna and the mythical river Saraswati.

Pictured above: Map showing Uttar Pradesh State and the goddess Saraswati

Kumbh Mela literally translates as ‘Festival of the Pot’ and is held every three years with its dates and location determined using astrology. Since medieval times the festival has been held in one of only four venues. This year the Government is expected to spend in the region of £505 million in support of the festival and its 8,000 acre site. The projected number of visitors to the festival during its 49 day duration is up to 150 million making it the largest peaceful gathering in the world. As an example, Hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, which by anyone’s standards is huge, normally attracts in the region of 2.5 million participants.

Pictured above: Candles burning in a Hindu temple

This year the most important day of the festival falls on February 4th when up to 30 million pilgrims are expected to attend and bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges where it meets the Yamuna River and the mythical river Saraswati at a location known as the Sangam.

Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu, whilst carrying a pot containing Amrita, the drink of immortality, spilt four drops from the pot and the places where these four drops landed are now the present day sites of the Kumbh Mela, with each site celebrating the festival every 12 years. Bathing at the Sangam during the festival is believed to cleanse the bather of all their sins. Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages. Thousands of holy men and women attend, and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part, attributable to this.

Pictured above: Pilgrims bathing in the River Ganges

Whilst many visitors and pilgrims may only attend for a day or a couple of days, millions stay for the duration of the festival and are accommodated in huge tented camps and fed from hundreds of Government sponsored kitchens. The logistics involved are truly remarkable with thousands of extra police and security personnel, doctors and nurses who man the temporary clinics and hospitals, railway workers, cooks, guides and missing person administrators all brought in to the area for the festival. With over 80% of India’s current population of 1.3 billion being Hindus, it is no surprise that Kumbh Mela is such a popular event although the festival is not restricted to Hindus alone, and is frequented by many other religions and tourists from around the world.

Pictured above: A chicken tikka makhani from our menu

The region is the inspiration and origin of many of the dishes served at Sarpech with chaat, aloo puri, biryanis and tikkas featuring prominently within Uttar Pradesh’s common recipes, whilst masalas and makhanis also come from northern states. Wheat is the staple food of Uttar Pradesh and breads are therefore very significant with naans, rotis and parathas being particularly popular. One of India’s favourite desserts also comes from the region and is a frequent choice at Sarpech, this being Kulfi otherwise known as a creamy, traditional Indian ice cream.

Pictured above: Tradional naan bread

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