|Sunday, April 25, 2004|
Jitendar Awasthi narrates how the Simhastha 2004, the spectacular Mahakumbha in Ujjain, is a living symbol of a cultural tradition that has survived down the ages and continues to be sustained and energised by faith.
ONE of the greatest congregations of common people and ascetics in the world, the Mahakumbha, Simhastha 2004, underway in Ujjain, is a rare spectacle. Besides the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists et al are also associated with this Mahakumbha.
Of the three shahi snan, the first one took place on April 5, the second one was slated for April 22 and the last will be held on May 4. In between, there were two festival dips on April 19 and 24. The Ujjain Mahakumba started 15 days before the first shahi snan and will continue for 15 days after the last shahi snan. Over 35 million people, including a million sadhus, participated in the celebrations for which preparations begun well in advance. According to legend, the gods and demons, in their search for the amrit, started the sagar manthan. The churning yielded 14 gems, including a pitcher of nectar (amrit kumbha), which had to be shared equally. Even if half of the nectar was given to the demons, as per the wager, they would be freed from the cycle of birth and death and create problems. Jayant, son of Indra, the king of the devas, got hold of the amrit kumbha and took it to heaven. The enraged demons pursued Jayant and a fierce battle ensued. It continued for 12 years, during which the drops of nectar fell at four places. These —Hardwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Nashik and Ujjain—are where, as per the stellar positions of the Sun, Jupiter and Moon, the Mahakumbha is held. They were assigned the job of protecting the kumbha. It is believed that the waters of Ganga, Godavari, Kshipra (also Shipra) and Yamuna turned amrit after some drops of nectar fell into them. The Kumbha fair is held after every 12 years, when the Sun enters the Aries sign, Jupiter the Leo and Moon the Libra and when there is the celestial conjuction of Vyatipaat yoga and Swati Nakshtra in the galaxy of stars. It is christened as Simhastha because during these days Jupiter enters Simha Rashi (Leo).
Ujjain, called the city of temples, has the famous Mahakaleswar temple. It is depicted in the Skandapurana as the city of 84 Mahadevas, 64 Yoginis, eight Bhairavas and six Vinayak Ganeshas. The people belonging to diverse communities, including the Sikhs, Jains and Bodhs have their own places of worship at Ujjain. As a rare example of unity in diversity, they celebrate their festivals here. The chief Imam has made arrangements for the stay of at 9,000 people during the Mahakumbha fair even this time, while Sikhs have helped in renovating the bathing ghats. Christians, Buddhists and Jains too have contributed their might towards organising the event.
Called by at least a dozen names—Ujjain, Ujjayini, Avanti, Avantica, Radmavati, Vishala, Pratikalpa et al—Ujjain, according to the Brahma Purana, is the best town in the world. The Brihannpardiya Purana believes that it existed since time immemorial. Named as Ujjayini during ancient times, meaning Vijay or victory, thereby symbolising the victory of Lord Shiva over Tripurasur, the demon. A major pilgrimage centre, Ujjain is situated in western Madhya Pradesh. The holy Shipra river flows nearby. The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has termed Ujjain as the most appropriate town for counting of time. It can be called the Greenwich of India. King Vikramaditya had started the Vikrami Samvat, new era, from Ujjain only.
Devotees take a holy dip in Shipra during the Mahakumbha. Shipra is considered as holy as the Ganga and the scriptures speak volumes of the significance of Shipra. According to the Skanda Purana, what one gets out of a thousand dips in the Kartik, hundreds of baths in Magha and millions of snans in the Narmada, one achieves from just a single Kumbha snan, thereby assuring liberation from worldly worries. Shipra, because of its north-bound flow, has great significance.
Besides the ritual significance of bathing, other major activities of this festival include paying obeisance at different temples of Ujjain, listening to discourses given by sages and ascetics and performance of yajnas and hawans. Sadhus standing on one leg or sitting surrounded by fire are common scenes in the Simhastha area. Some may be seen standing on their heads for a pretty long time. Such acts are the ultimate test of physical, mental and spiritual powers. Such a huge congregation of the devout, without parallel elsewhere in the world, touches one’s soul and create a yearning that cannot be defined or described. Watching the feats of endurance being performed might inspire the individual to hone physical or mental faculties. Popular belief has it that a man called Shankar had initiated celebration of the Mahakumbha in an organised manner. The Ujjain Simhastha, according to historical accounts, in 1732 the king Ranoji Shinde instructed one of his ministers Ramchandra Baba, to organise the Simhastha for the first time. The first well-arranged Simhastha in 1909 was organised as per the Central India Simhastha Fair Act, 1955.