Why are Kumbh Melas celebrated only at four places of pilgrimage?
A pilgrimage unique to India is the Kumbh Mela celebrated every 12 years. It is celebrated at four different places of pilgrimage at different times. Millions of people from within the country and abroad get together to bathe in the holy rivers, hear religious discourses, meet saints and sages and give charity. It is believed that those who participate in the Kumbh Mela attain salvation.
The four places where the Kumbh Mela is celebrated are Hardwar on the banks of the Ganga, at Allahabad (Prayag) where the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati meet, at Ujjain alongside the river Shipra and at Nasik.
The beginning of the Kumbh Mela can be traced back to the time when the gods and the asurs churned the ocean to obtain valuable things. One of the things obtained was a kalash (pot) full of the celestial nectar, amrit. Both the gods and the asurs wanted it. When the gods ran off with it, the asurs followed in pursuit. The chase lasted 12 days. During the chase the kalash was rested at four places. Some even believe that Garuda flew away with the kalash, and during the chase a few drops of the nectar fell at these four places. At each of the four places the Kumbh Mela is held.
The twelve divine days of the chase are equivalent to 12 years of man. Therefore the Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years. Since the kalash was placed at different times in the four places, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated at different times in each place.