Ugadi is celebrated at Amrita University

Kumbh Mela

There are several references to river-side festivals in ancient Indian texts, but the exact age of the Kumbh Mela is uncertain. The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) describes a ritual organized by Emperor Shiladitya (identified with Harsha) at the confluence of two rivers, in the realm of Po-lo-ye-kia (identified with Prayaga). He also mentions that many hundreds took a bath at the confluence to wash away their sins. According to some scholars, this historical representation is the earliest surviving of the Mela Kumbh, which took place in what is now known as Allahabad in 644 CE. However, Australian researcher Kama Maclean notes that the Xuanzang reference has been about an event that happened every 5 years (rather than 12 years), and perhaps a Buddhist celebration (a Buddhist emperor since Harsha).

A common notion shared by the Akharas advocated is that Adi Shankara began the Kumbh Mela in Prayag in the 8th century to facilitate meetings of holy men from different regions. However, scientists doubt the authenticity of this claim.

The Kumbh Mela of Haridwar will be the original Kumbh Mela, since it is kept according to the astrological sign "Kumbha" (Aquarius), and because there are several references to a 12 year cycle for it. The earliest surviving texts that contain the name "Kumbh Mela"Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh (1695 CE) andChahar Gulshan (1759 CE). Both texts use the term "Kumbh Mela" to describe only the Haridwar Mass, although they denote the similar masses in Allahabad and Nashik. TheKhulasat-ut-Tawarikh lists the following melas: an annual mela and kumbh mela every 12 years in Haridwar; a mela held at Trimbak when Jupiter enters Leo (that is, once in 12 years); and an annual mela held at Prayag in Magh. The Magh Mela of Allahabad is probably the oldest among them, dating from the first century AD, and was mentioned in several Puranas. However, its association with the Kumbha myth and the 12-year cycle is relatively new, probably again in the mid-19th century. DP Dubey notes that none of the ancient Hindu texts refer to the Allahabad mass as "Kumbh Mela". Kama Maclean states that even early British records do not mention the name "Kumbh Mela" or the 12-year cycle for the Allahabad fair. The first British reference to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad only occurs in an 1868 report that mentions the need for increased pilgrimage and sanitation controls at the "Coomb fair" to be held in January 1870. According to Maclean, the Prayagwal Brahmin priests of Allahabad their annual Magh Mela Kumbh adapted legend in order to increase the meaning of itstirtha .

The Kumbh Mela in Ujjain began in the 18th century when the Maratha ruler Ranoji Shinde invited ascetics from Nashik Ujjain for a local festival. As the priests in Allahabad, the pundits of Nashik and Ujjain, compete with other places for holy status, the Kumbh tradition has adopted for their pre-existing melas.

Haridwar Kumbh Mela by the English painter JMW Turner. Original steel engraving, 1850s.

Until the East India Company rule, the Kumbh Melas were administered by the Akharas (sects) of religious ascetics known as the Sadhus. They collected taxes and also performed police and judicial duties. The sadhus were heavily militarized and also took part in the trade. The melas were a scene of sectarian politics that turned violent at timesChahar Gulshan states that the local Sanyasis in Haridwar attacked the fakirs from Prayag who came to visit the Kumbh Mela there. At the 1760 Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, a battle broke out between Shaivite Gosains and Vaishnavite Bairagis (ascetics), resulting in hundreds of deaths, with Vaishnavite making up most of the victims. A copper plate inscription of the Maratha Peshwa claims that 12,000 ascetics died in a clash between Shaivitesanyasi s and VaishnaviteBairagi s at 1789 Nashik Kumbh Mela. The dispute began over the bathing rules, the status of the specifiedakhara At the 1796 Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, the Shaivites and the injured Udasis attacked a camp for setting up without their permission. In response, the Khalsa killed the Sikhs accompanying the Udasis around 500 Gosains; The Sikhs lost about 20 men in battle. The disputes after the gestion of the merchant-warriors severely restricted the role of the sadhus, who increasingly reduced their begging.

In addition to their religious significance, historically the Kumbh Melas were also large commercial events. Baptist missionary John Chamberlain, who attended the 1824 Ardh Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, stated that large numbers of visitors came for the trade. He pointed out that the fair was attended by "multitudes of every religious order" including large numbers of Sikhs After an 1858 because of the Haridwar Kumbh Mela by the British official Robert Montgomery Martin, the visitors to the fair were people from a Variety of races and religions. In addition to priests, soldiers and religious mendicants, the fair was attended by several traders, including horse traders from Bukhara, Kabul, Turkestan, Arabia and Persia. Several Hindu Rajas, Sikh rulers and Muslim nawabs attended the fair. Some Christian missionaries also preached at the mela.

The Kumbh Melas played an important role in the spread of cholera outbreaks and pandemics. The British administrators made several attempts to improve sanitary conditions at the melas, but thousands of people died of cholera at these fairs until the middle of the 20th century.

Several stampedes have performed at the Kumbh Melas. After an 1820 stampede in Haridwar that killed 430 people, the society's government undertook extensive infrastructure projects, including the construction of new ghats and road widening, to prevent further stampedes. Since then, Haridwar has seen fewer deaths in Stampedes: the next big onslaught occurred in 1986 when 50 people were killed. Allahabad has also seen great stampedes in 1840, 1906, 1954, 1986 and 2013. The deadliest of them was the 1954 Stampede, which left 800 dead.