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Full or ardh? UP government’s mela hype triggers fight over Kumbh name

The fair, which this year will take place from January 15 to March 4 at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers, has traditionally been called the ‘Ardh Kumbh’.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2019 08:08 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal and K Sandeep Kumar
Pankaj Jaiswal and K Sandeep Kumar
Hindustan Times, Lucknow/Allahabad
Kumbh,Ardh kumbh,Kumbh mela
Sadhus participate in flag-hoisting ceremony ahead of Kumbh Mela 2019, in Allahabad on January 8.(PTI Photo)

As millions prepare to descend on Allahabad to celebrate one of the holiest religious fairs of the Hindu calendar, the six-yearly event is entangled in a war of nomenclatures: is it the Kumbh 2019 or the Ardh Kumbh 2019? 

The fair, which this year will take place from January 15 to March 4 at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers, has traditionally been called the ‘Ardh Kumbh’. The one held every 12 is called the Kumbh and the event slated every 144 years, the Maha Kumbh.

The row began on December 12, 2017, when Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, while launching the Kumbh logo, announced the renaming of the Ardh Kumbh as the ‘Kumbh’. On December 22, his government introduced the ‘Prayagraj Mela Authority Bill’ in the assembly and duly made the change announced by the CM.

The state government’s move hasn’t gone down well with the Opposition and most Hindu religious figures, who are sticking to calling the imminent six-year event as the ‘Ardh Kumbh’.

Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav on January 2 tweeted that the government shouldn’t be playing politics over the Ardh Kumbh.

“Now they have changed the Kumbh’s name. They should know history and traditions. They are publicising the Ardh Kumbh as the Kumbh,” read the tweet.

The Leader of Opposition in the UP assembly, SP leader Ram Govind Chaudhary, tore into the government and said it was violating the Vedas and other holy scriptures.

Congress’ Intellectual Cell chairman Sampoornanand said, “Kumbh is our tradition. It should not be redefined in any manner. The [upcoming] Kumbh’s traditional nomenclature is the ‘Ardh Kumbh.’”

Revenue-generating tourism may have motivated the UP CM to scale up the name by a notch. The thinking seems to be that the state coffers could benefit from a “Kumbh” being held every six years instead of 12.

“Why is the Opposition so upset if the government is making efforts to attract more and more people from India and abroad to the fair?” asked UP Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak. “The Kumbh doesn’t belong to any party or government, it’s a matter of faith and tradition.”

Yogi Adityanath, meanwhile, cited a philosophical mantra from the Yajur Veda, and offered a riposte as mystifying as the verse itself. “Nothing is incomplete in Hindu philosophy,” he said. “Therefore, the word ‘ardh’ [half] doesn’t fit.”

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the upcoming religious jamboree as the Ardh Kumbh during a rally in Allahabad on December 16, while seers well-versed in Hindu holy texts are on the warpath too.

“For us, the ‘sarkari’ Kumbh will remain the ‘Ardh Kumbh’,” said mahant Maheshwar Dasji. The mahant, who belongs to the Panchayati Akhara Bada Udasin, one of 13 recognised monastic orders in India, said that the Kumbhs are calculated in accordance to the positions of celestial bodies. “Those can’t be changed by a mere resolution, bill or government order,” he said.

Balak Yogeshwar Das Maharaj, head of the Ati Vishnu Mahayagya Samiti, dismissed the UP CM’s comments and attempts to rename the gathering as “wordplay designed to make the event look grander.” 

“The Sanatan Dharm follows traditions and customs as per ancient holy scriptures and this cannot be changed,” he said.

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are shaking their heads over the brouhaha. “Whether it’s called the Kumbh or the Ardh Kumbh, what difference does it make?” asked professor Yogeshwar Tiwari, head of Allahabad University’s department of medieval and modern history. “It is the occasion that’s significant.”

(with inputs from Padma Rao Sundarji in New Delhi)

First Published: Jan 09, 2019 07:17 IST