Prayagraj is considered as one of the oldest places of pilgrimage (Tirthas). It is one among the ‘Tristhli.’ It is presently known as Allahabad, which is located 135 Km west of Varanasi, at the confluence of India’s most important rivers- the Ganga and the Yamuna and the underground Saraswati. This meeting point of the rivers, the ‘Sangam’, is believed to have great soul-cleansing powers and is an important pilgrimage site.
Allahabad stands on the site of ancient Prayag, a holy city that was comparable in fame to Varanasi (Benares) and Haridwar. Prayag’s importance in the ancient Buddhist period of Indian history is attested to by the inscriptions on the Pillar of Asoka. The pillar still stands inside the gateway to the old Allahabad fort (which is situated strategically at the confluence of the two rivers). The site’s religious importance persists; each year a festival takes place at the rivers’ confluence, and every 12th year a much larger festival, Kumbh Mela, is attended by millions of Hindus. The present city of Allahabad was founded in 1583 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, who named it Allahabad (“City of God”). It became a provincial capital in the Mughal Empire, and from 1599 to 1604 it was the headquarters of the rebellious prince Salim (later the emperor Jahangir). Outside Allahabad fort is the tomb built for Jahangir’s rebellious son, Khusru. With the Mughal decline, Allahabad changed hands many times before being ceded to the British in 1801. The city was the scene of a great massacre during the 1857 Indian Mutiny against British rule. From 1904 to 1949 the city was the capital of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). It was a centre of the Indian independence movement and was the home of the Nehru family, whose estate is now a museum.
The ‘Prakrista yajna’ was performed here by Lord Brahma. That is how it received its ancient name as Prayag. It is also called as Tiratha-Raja (king of all holy places).
The Sangam (confluence of three rivers) is considered to be the most important holy bathing place in India. The most auspicious time to bathe in the sangam is during Kumbh-mela, which is held after every twelve years. It draws about 15 million people and is the largest attended event in the world. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang described visiting the city in 634 A.D., and it acquired its present name (Allahabad) in 1584 under Akbar.
The Magh (Kumbh) Mela is one of the greatest annual religious affairs for Hindus. Hindu mythology considers the origin of the Magh Mela to be the beginning of the Universe. An important occasion, the Magh (Kumbh) Mela is held every year on the banks of Triveni Sangam (the confluence of the three great rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati) in Prayag near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. In accordance with the traditional Hindu calendar followed in North India, this holy fair is organised every year during the Hindu month of Magh (corresponding to mid January – mid February of the Gregorian calendar); hence the name. The Magh Mela is, however, not confined only to the month of Magh and the important bathing dates are spread over a period of 45 days. The Magh Mela is actually a smaller version of Kumbh Mela. Hence it is also known as mini Kumbh Mela. Every year, the Magh Mela commences on the day of Makkar Sankranti in January, which is the first important bathing day according to the religious Hindu calendar. It begins with multitudes of pilgrims taking a holy dip at the Sangam on auspicious dates. A large number of people arrive here annually and stay in makeshift houses or tents at the Sangam, spending the entire month of Magh in prayers. This period is known as “Kalpvas”. Those who religiously observe the “Kalpvas” are known as “Kalpvasis”. The ancient Hindu Vedas mention a “Kalp” to be the period equal to the total number of years in the four yugas – Satyug, Treta, Dwapar and Kalyug. This adds up to several millions of years. It is said that by piously observing a “Kalpavas”, a devotee overcomes the sins in his/her previous birth and escapes the cycle of Janma (birth) and Karma (actions). During each day of the Magh Mela, a Kalpvasi has to take a dip at the Ganges on sunrise praying to the rising sun. Majority of the Kalpvasis partake only a meal a day. After observing 12 Kalpavas, a Kalpavasi has to donate his/her bed and all his belongings (a ritual known as “Shayya Daan”). The Uttar Pradesh government annually makes special arrangements for the devotees during this time. A greater number of buses ply to let the pilgrims have their journey in peace and without any inconvenience. A township of tents specially comes up on the banks of the Sangam to provide shelter to the visiting millions who turn up from all over the country. Adequate medical and security arrangements are made to avoid any untoward incidents. “Lost and Found” camps are also set up and manned by the local police to prevent anyone getting missing during the days of the fair. Every twelfth year, the Magh Mela is transformed into the Kumbha Mela. Uttar Pradesh is flooded with millions of pilgrims who arrive here during this time to attend this grand event.
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Kumbh Mela Area I, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh.