Prayag (Allahabad): The Most Sacred of Bathing Places
Prayag is the most important site for the great Kumbha Mela festival
Allahabad was previously called Prayag, after a Prakrista Yajna (sacrifice) performed by Lord Brahma. Allahabad is also called Tirtha Raja, “the king of all holy places”. This is the confluence (sangam) of the holy rivers, Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati and is therefore called “Triveni” (confluence of three rivers). It is considered the most important bathing place in India. The muddy-coloured Ganges is shallow and rapid, whilst the Yamuna is blue, deep and slower moving. The Sarasvati apparently runs underground.
The most auspicious time to bathe in the sangam is during the Kumbha Mela, which is held every twelve years. The last one held in Allahabad was in January 2001. The Kumbha Mela draws 15 million people, including prominent yogis, sadhus (saintly persons), gurus, as well as holy people and pilgrims from all over the world.
Many sadhus come from various holy places, including the most remote forests and mountain caves in the Himalayas. The most famous are the “naga babas”, who are worshippers of Lord Shiva. They usually go completely naked, covering their bodies only with ash and wearing their hair in dreadlocks.
Every six years there is an Ardha Mela, which draws about seven million people and each year there is a regular Mela during the month of Magha (January/February), which draws one to two million people.
Allahabad is 365 miles south-east of Delhi and 85 miles west of Varanasi.