I studied at Allahabad University and had an opportunity to participate in the Kumbha Mela in 1976, but in those days I did not regard it as an event of any particular importance. I went because everyone else went, and I bathed at the juncture of the two rivers because my family and social customs demanded it. I met saints and yogis because I could not escape them. It was exciting and I enjoyed the experience, but it never occurred to me to seek something there, because I did not know what to seek or why.

Nineteen years later, after I had been living in the United States for some time, I led a tour to the Himalayas. We stopped in Rishikesh and Haridwar when we returned from the mountains, and there I saw slogans written on the walls: “Get ready for the yuga sandhi [the meeting point between two ages] in 2001!” “2001: the time for change and transformation!” There were many such slogans. It was 1995, long before millennium mania began to manifest in the West, and I was puzzled. So I stopped outside an ashram in Haridwar whose walls were covered with such slogans and asked the head swami, “What is happening in 2001?”

He knew I was a pandit but he didn’t know I had been living in the West for a long time and was surprised at my question. “Don’t you know it is the time of the Maha Kumbha Mela?” he asked.

I thought he was talking about the spring Kumbha Mela due to be celebrated in Haridwar in three years, so I said, “Isn’t that in 1998?” 

“No,” he replied. “That is an Ardha Kumbha [half kumbha], although many people call it Maha Kumbha Mela. The actual Maha Kumbha Mela is in January of 2001 in Allahabad.”

“What is the difference between a Kumbha Mela and a Maha Kumbha Mela?” I asked.

“Due to the alignment of planets, constellations, and other celestial bodies the benevolent forces are perfectly polarized every twelve years at the area around Allahabad,” he replied. “This is the time of the Kumbha Mela. The positive energy is further intensified by the presence of thousands of saints and sages who come together during this cosmic event. Symbolically speaking, the forces of creation are collected in one kumbha [vessel] and a mela [celebration] ensues. Twelve of these cycles culminate in a Maha Kumbha Mela, an extraordinary event that occurs every 144 years. The collective consciousness engendered by the concentration of spiritual energy during a Maha Kumbha Mela brings a radical shift in the destiny of humankind. And in 2001 this event coincides with the dawn of the new millennium.”

“What is your prediction?” I asked. “Are things going to get better at this juncture or worse?”

“That depends entirely on the nature of the collective consciousness,” he replied. “Today the bright and dark forces are struggling for supremacy. If we have faith only in the power of destiny and do nothing, the dark forces, which already dominate, will certainly prevail. If we put all of our spiritual resources into one pot there in Allahabad and create a powerful, positive collective consciousness, we can subdue the Kali Yuga [the dark age] and allow the Satya Yuga [the bright age] to come forward.”

He paused for a moment and then said, “Let me show you something.” He took me inside the ashram, and there hundreds of people were participating in a group meditation and offering herbal preparations to the fire. This group meditation, the swami explained, was focused on the welfare of all creation; it would be concluded on a bank of the Ganga in Allahabad during the Maha Kumbha Mela. “There are many other groups like ours,” he said, “as well as a host of those who are doing specific individual practices with the intention of concluding them in Allahabad at the end of the current 144-year cycle in January 2001.”

When I returned to the United States I began to pour over the scriptures, looking for references to the Maha Kumbha Mela. I found that most references to the subject focused on addressing the imbalances in the ecosystem, or uplifting the deplorable condition of human consciousness during the Kali Yuga, or preventing a large-scale natural disaster. They all agreed that what we do at these 144-year intervals can shape the destiny of humankind for the foreseeable future.

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