Mid February saw two major events unfold; the Hindu Kumbh Mela (Sanskrit: Kumbh Mēlā) which is the world’s largest religious gathering, and the sudden and violent collision of a meteorite plummeting into Chelyabinsk, Russia ― both of which occurred simultaneously. This short article will examine how a cosmic event from half a universe away and an ancient pilgrimage could be of spiritual significance for people belonging to the Dharmic Religious Faiths (Hindu Traditions & Pagan Traditions).The Kumbh Mela is a massive pilgrimage which is held for about one and a half months at each of the four sites where it is believed in Hinduism that drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh (pitcher) carried by the Gods after the sea was churned in the Amrita Manthan myth. It is held every third year at different locations. The rivers at the Kumbh Mela sites are: the Ganges (Ganga) at Haridwar, the confluence (Sangam) of the Ganges and the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at Allahabad, the Godawari at Nasik, and the Shipra at Ujjain. Approximately 80 million people attended on 14 February 2013, with vast numbers in attendance every single day of its duration. In the wider Hindu Tradition these places, particularly those associated with water, are often called tīrthas and pilgrimage to these tīrthas is one of the oldest and most prominent features of Hindu religious life. The word tīrtha means a “crossing place” a “ford” where one may cross over to the far side of a river, or in a metaphysical sense, to the Heavens. Tīrtha sites, such as those found at the Kumbh Mela, are literally sacred locations where the boundaries between the worlds of the Gods and the worlds of the mortals are thin ― and it is from this special sanctity of the location that pilgrims receive spiritual rewards for their journey.
The Kumbh Mela derives its heritage from a very old Hindu myth ― the Amrita Manthan. In this myth, the Devas and the Asuras churned the ocean and fought for the nectar of immortality, the amrita. It is one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas, appearing in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata and the Vishnu Purana.
- The legend goes thus ― the gods and the demons fight for a pot of nectar (Amrit Kumbh): the nectar of immortality. Lord Vishnu, disguising himself as an enchantress (Mohini), seized the nectar from the demons. While fleeing from the evil ones, Lord Vishnu passed the nectar on to his winged mount, Garuda. The demons finally caught up with Garuda and in the ensuing struggle, a few drops of the precious nectar fell on Allahabad, Nasik, Haridwar and Ujjain. These holy places are Allahabad (Prayag) in Uttar Pradesh, Haridwar (Uttrakhand), Ujjain (MP) and Nasik (Maharashtra). Since then, the Kumbh Mela has been held in all these places, alternatively, every 12 years. People believe that after bathing there during the Kumbha Mela, one can get the primeval heaven and moksha.
But something sinister also occurred ― a deadly poison appeared, and whilst the Deva and Asura fought, Shiva swallowed this deadly poison that threatened to destroy the world, and it was so strong that it turned the colour of Shiva’s neck blue. This is why Shiva is sometimes called Nilakanta (the blue-throated one; neela = blue, kantha = throat).
The Churning of the Ocean of Milk or the Milky Way was an elaborate process, with Mount Mandarachala (Mount Meru) being used as the churning rod, and Vasuki, the King of Serpents, became the rope. Vishnu in His second incarnation, in the form of the turtle Kurma, came to their rescue and supported the mountain on His back. With the cosmological references to the Milky Way, Time/Earth (Vasuki), Mount Meru (the Spiritual centre of the Earth) and Vishnu incarnating as Kurma to support the world which is formed on his back, this is not just an immortality myth but one of cosmological creation. The Kumbh Mela is a celebration of this event where participants share in the divine essence of the Gods; a crossing over between the world of mortals and the divine to obtain moksha ― is it a random coincidence that at precisely this time meteorites were drawn to the Ural region in Russia?
The Ural region itself is very old, and possesses a unique Indo-European heritage also. On February 15th 2013 according to initial news reports, at least 1100 people were injured when a meteorite impacted in precisely this area. The eyewitness images were astounding ― a blazing trial of fire across the sky, detonating in a dramatic explosion of heat and debris. NASA estimated the meteor was about the size of a bus and weighed 7000 tons, with the blast over Chelyabinsk occurring 14-20 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, and a release of energy equivalent to a 300-kiloton explosion.
Located not far from Chelyabinsk are the Ural Mountains ― home to the ancient and mysterious ruins of Arkaim (Аркаим), a city with an unknown Indo-European heritage. The construction of Arkaim itself is interesting, consisting of an ancient fortified settlement composed of two concentric circular walls with what appears to an observatory or astronomical ritual chamber located in the centre. Carbon dating of artefacts discovered at Arkaim place them at 3500-4000 BC, but some claim the site itself to be at least 12,000 years old. Arkaim has other interesting archaeological features however; firstly it shares the same latitude as Stonehenge, and secondly the layout appears to resemble that of a rotating spiral or ‘sun-wheel’. Both of these features also suggest that Arkaim may have been a site connected with solar or astronomical rites of great significance. Furthermore, this is not the only site of this nature in the region ― the lesser known Andronovo and Sintashta sites are also located on the upper Ural River. Archaeology at Andronovo remains unknown, but a general connection with the Indo-Europeans or Indo-Aryans is usually accepted though the specific details are still the subject of heated debate.
Despite their occasional devastating impact with the earth, meteorites are traditionally deemed to be a good omen and a sign from Heaven which were widely revered in a diverse spectrum of cultures around the globe. Mircea Eliade for example, claims that the Palladion of Troy, the Artemis of Ephesus, as well as the Cone of Elagabalus in Emesa, were actually meteorites. Richard Norton also speculates that the original omphalos housed at Apollo’s oracle at Delphi may have been a meteorite, later being replaced by a second stone. The Roman historian, Livy, also tells the story of the meteorite of Pessinunt, Phrygia, a conical object known as the Needle of Cybele, the goddess of fertility. After the Romans had conquered Phrygia, the meteorite was conveyed in a gigantic procession to Rome, where it was worshiped for another 500 years.
Native American tribes also venerated pieces and fragments of the Canyon Diablo meteorite. The tribes of the Clackamas in Oregon claim that they once worshiped the Willamette meteorite, one of the largest known irons, weighing about 15 tons, and the stones power was also used in hunting rituals. Some people today still believe that seeing a shooting star is a good omen. They will literally wish upon a star, convinced that their wish will come true if they do not tell anyone what they have wished for.
Even though its impact in Chelyabinsk was unfortunate for those who were unlucky enough to be within the meteorites landing zone, it’s timing is ultimately an auspicious one. Arriving at precisely the moment of the largest spiritual event on earth, the Kumbh Mela, which symbolises cosmic creation and the cleansing granted by moksha, the meteorite also landed in the vicinity of one of the most mysterious sacred sites in human history; Arkaim, the ‘Russian Stonehenge’. On the contrary to this current cycle being one of decline, it is a time of rise and of opportunity ― of which this great release of divine fire in the sky and the Kumbh Mela is the most propitious omen for the beginning of a new spiritually awakened era.