UNESCO has recognised the world’s largest congregation of pilgrims — the Kumbh Mela — in its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list this year. Last year, Yoga and Nowroz received international recognition. An expert body, which examines nominations submitted to UNESCO, made the decision to add it to the list.

“It is a culturally diverse festival” where “knowledge and skills related to the tradition are transmitted through ancient religious manuscripts, oral traditions, historical travelogues and texts produced by eminent historians,” said UNESCO’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ website.

The announcement was lauded by Prime Minister Modi, who tweeted: #WorldCultureFestival is a Kumbh Mela of culture…a great confluence of people from all over the world. Glad to be a part of the festival.”

So what is the Kumbh Mela?

It is held every three years and switches between four different locations. It is a 55-day gathering where Hindus come together, to bathe in the river and wash away their sins.

The story behind the mela is as follows. The origin of the mela is said to be when the gods and demons resided on earth. The Gods were under a curse which made them cowardly and weak. The creator, Brahma, advised them to churn the milky ocean to obtain the elixir of immortality. However, the asuras (demons) didn’t want to share the nectar with the gods, so the gods chased them for 12 days. During the chase, some of the nectar fell at the four locations. The Mela is held on the dates when water of these sacred rivers is said to turn into nectar.

The festival is over 2,000 years old, and is still going strong.

The last Kumbh Mela, which was held in 2013 in Allahabad, attracted a crowd of nearly 10 crore people. It earned Rs 12,000 crore because it created 650,000 jobs!

Kumbh Mela and women

It isn’t only men who want to bathe in the holy rivers during the mela. Women sadhavi akhadas have demanded that they be given a special place and separate time for the holy bath.

Other traditions which made the UNESCO list

The list, which was created in 2003, includes 350 traditions. This year, the art of Neapolitan pizza making, a horse-riding game from Iran and Dutch windmills joined UNESCO’s culture list along with India’s Kumbh Mela.

Also Read: Travel blogger Mariellen Ward on women, adventure and solo-travelling

Picture Credit: KumbhMela.net

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