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  •                  Recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
    The chiming of bells at different  times  sings  its own melody, the sweet fragrance of the incense sticks, flowers and camphor which will soothen our senses. The symphony of continuous Vedic chants at various marquees add on to the extravaganza in this  Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
    Kumbh Mela is the most celebrated mystical and spiritual fair that happens in the northern part of India, according to the Hindu rituals and traditions. Kumbh Mela symbolises divinity and knowledge. It is the largest human gathering for a similar cause with millions of pilgrims and tourists  from different parts of the world belonging to different casts, creed, colour and religion gather to experience and account the ritual bathe in the sacred river to wash off ones sins and attain Moksha. This year the ArdhKumbh Mela is conducted in Prayagraj (Allahabad) from 15th of January 2019 to 4th of March 2019. 
    The fairs are held amidst the chanting of Vedic hymns and mantras which free the mind from the worldly sufferings and miseries.
    | | Kalashasyamukhevishnuhkantherudrahsamaashritah | |
    | | Muletvasyasthitobrahmaamadhyemaatahganaahsthitaah | |
    | |  kukshautusaagaraasarvesaptadvipaavasundharaa | |
    | | Hrigvedoyajurvedosaamavedohayatharvanah | |
    Angaishcasahitaahsarvekalashantusamaashritaah | |
    Kumbh is referred as the Sangam i.e. act of merging of all the knowledge that exists in the world, there is a constant distribution of knowledge and life imparted by the various ascetics from different sects, speaking different languages and dialects come together for a holy dip in river Ganges and Godavari professing their experiences. The above mentioned Sanskrit sloka talks about the trinity of Gods, Brahma being the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer,  the mother Earth and the Vedas all exist in Kumbh, which translates as Kumbh is where all the knowledge is imparted and grasped. The pilgrims, tourists and the ascetics are all in constant search for answers which shall be attained here.
    According to Hindu Mythology, Gods and Demons churned the ocean in order to obtain the pot of nectar ‘Kumbh’ which was meant for equal distribution but this led to a war between the Gods and the Demons which lasted for 12 human years. It is believed that celestial Bird Garuda flew away with the Kumbh and few drops of the Amrita (nectar)fell in Prayagraj (Allahabad), Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. These four places are identified as the present day locations for Kumbh Mela.  Kumbh Mela is recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Mela takes place in different locations depends on the position and alignment of the planet of Brahspati (Jupiter) and the Sun, pilgrims and devotees come together to commemorate the event. Jupiter is known as the ‘Guru’ or the spiritual master who along with the Sun ‘rational intellect’ guides the moon which symbolises the human mind thus resulting in the immortality of self through knowledge.
    The PurnaKumbh takes place in a gap of twelve years while the ArdhKumbh happens every six years in Prayagraj and Haridwar.  The ArdhKumbh 2019 is being held in Parayagraj since the 2013 MahaKumbh which happened after 144 years.
    Prayagraj or Allahabad is the most celebrated location during the Kumbh Mela because of its confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati and being the specific point of holy dip. According to Hindu traditions Prayagraj is also considered as the origin of the universe and the centre of the earth, thus having a proficient significance for the Mela conducted at this place. Mythology says Lord Brahma offered his first prayer here after he finished the creation of the World. The Mela is divine and special because of the ambience that it projects. The Mela is a visual treat to the eyes with the procession carried out by the ascetics from different sects in their gold and silver chariot to that of the Shahi Snan taken by the saints from different order following their order of hierarchy. The loud cry of happiness that they produce makes the hair on your arm bristle, such powerful is the impact. The saffron, the white, the ash smeared bodies of the ascetics and the yogi’s mingles with profusion. The Shivanti Naga Sadhus are the major attraction and these sadhus are of the highest strata and get to take the holy bath first, followed by the other ascetics. The Naga Sadhus remain naked their whole life, their body has adjusted to all the adverse temperatures and it is interesting to watch and learn from them. These Sadhus are seen carrying trident in their hand and ashes smeared all over their body with three legged tilak on their forehead.
    Satsangs are the religious discussions followed by musical performances by the dedicated devotees and pilgrims. The State tourism Department has set up colourful tents and camps for the Sadhus, pilgrims and the tourists. There are special tents for the international visitors who has especially come to watch the largest human bathing ritual and the Indian Fair of higher significance. During the Mela the volunteers provide Langar (community meals) for each and everyone and they all sit together and have the feast. The bond and the harmony that they share with one another is a sight which fills our heart with contempt. The essence of the Kumbh Mela is to bathe at a particular auspicious time at certain spots on special days. 

    Tourism India, India's Travel & Tourism Magazine, Kerala, India.
  • Petrichor - the pleasant fragrance that comes after the first drop of rain touches the parched mud in our village house’s courtyard during the last phase of scorching summer is always nostalgic. The dark clouds accompanied with cool breeze and ethereal downpour that follows and the sweet petrichor have forever been the highlight of rain in India.

    Monsoon is India's annual miracle and has a unique sentiment of joy, rejuvenation and hope in mind, body and soul, all across the sub continent. Anywhere else in the world, nobody can understand the real sense of perception what the monsoon rain means for India, until they experience it themselves. After two to three months of scorching tropical summer, the Indian monsoon is a time of relief for everyone. It’s a time to rejoice and prosper.

    India’s Monsoon showers that arrive in the middle of the year has been extensively covered and chronicled by many foreign writers. The beauty and majesty of the rainy season has always attracted foreign travellers and traders to our country. Their narration about torrential rain in India encompasses expressions ranging from dismay and terror to delight and desire.

    The modern tourism of India is indebted to one travel journalist, who travelled across the subcontinent to fulfill his father’s dream of visiting Cherrapunji in Meghalaya during the rainy season. Alexander Frater, the British-Australian travel writer wrote his first book on Indian monsoon titled “ Chasing the Monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India”, published by Penguin books in 1990.This book and the following many features in various international newspapers and television documentaries by BBC, CNN, DW German TV and National Geographic contributed much in launching and boosting  tourism in India in the early 1990s.

    During his early childhood in the mid-twentieth century at Vanuatu in the South West Pacific Islands, Alexander Frater, son of a Scottish doctor had been enamored by the idea of Indian rains through the stories he heard from his father. After primary school, Frater was sent to Scotch College in Melbourne, and later attended the University of Melbourne as an undergraduate in the late 1950s. He married Marlis and in 1962 the couple moved to the UK to pursue a career in journalism. Years later, in London, Frater became the chief travel correspondent of “The Observer” and won numerous prestigious awards for travel writing. Finally in 1987, to fulfill his childhood dreams, he visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced “Chasing the Monsoon”. He also penned, “Beyond the Blue Horizon”.

    Frater has beautifully narrated his encounter with rain and people while capturing India's emotion filled response to this fantastic natural phenomenon. There are paragraphs that leave you feeling drenched and free. What an amazing journey this book takes through the heart and soul of India!

    Frater decided to set out on a journey to India on the spur of the moment in a hospital in the UK where he was receiving treatment for neck pain. Meeting an enthusiastic Indian couple from Goa at the hospital tickled his fascination with the monsoon buried in his subconscious. That became the first line of the book:

    The first sounds I ever heard were those of falling rain. It was tropical, the kind that seems to possess a metallic weight and mass...

    The prologue that sets the tone of the book depicts a vivid bond with the tropics, a keen interest in the weather inspired by his father, a spirit of adventure, observations about people and an innate bond with the rain. He writes in detail about Kerala, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Shillong and Cherrapunji.

    "I spent more than a year to come up with the first line. That is always the most difficult line of the book. I was writing about such a huge, complex subject. But once I had got that line, I finished writing the book within six months," he says in an interview.Frater's writing has an honest ring to it, and makes no effort to overly glamorize or condemn - a common pitfall when it comes to travelogues centred on India.

    "My father had a great interest in the weather science. From my childhood onwards, he always tried to describe and teach me the natural wonder called Monsoon in the Indian subcontinent. He used to exchange letters with a friend from Cherrapunji Meteorological Station. He always dreamed and used to talk about visiting the wettest place on Earth.  I remember we had a landscape picture in our room, the rain set in Cherrapunji with mesmerizing waterfall." The picture was so much a part of Frater’s memory that it could pull him out of his "bouts of homesickness" in Australia.

    The journey in 1987 was not a one-time fascination for Frater. He has made the journey thrice. He has made a documentary on monsoon in India for the BBC in 1991 (World of Discovery - Chasing India's Monsoon) and this film became a real time hit across the globe, and later many National Television channels including DW German TV and Netherlands broadcasting corporation made films on Monsoon in the early 1990s.

     With exceptional sensitivity and wit, Frater uses facts, impressions and anecdotes to vividly describe his own experience of the monsoon while also illustrating the towering influence of nature over the lives of Indians. He narrates, “In Kovalam, you actually see this entity coming. At least 40-50 people make a chain, holding hands and welcoming the monsoon! It is sent to nourish India. The sheer joy of watching the advancing monsoon! It is an event."

     "This is the only season that has moods. It can have wonderfully sublime moods. Sometimes it is grumpy, sometimes it is happy. And it is the same monsoon." Fratersounds absolutely convinced about the excitement the rainy season offers.  Several anecdotes in the book confirm that he takes much pleasure in exploring the myths and stories about music and prayers that compel the rain gods to oblige.

    Moreover, theories about the healing qualities of rain also manage to get his attention: "Seasons in temperate climate are quite boring. Here, it is such a huge phenomenon. As nature recoups with the rains, it is rejuvenation time for humans too. According to Ayurveda, monsoon is the best season for rejuvenation therapies. During the monsoon season, the atmosphere remains dust-free and cool, opening the pores of the body to the maximum, making it most receptive to herbal oils and therapy”.

    He celebrates the quirks of a simply-crazy-about-the-rains country in his writing .The harsh facts of deforestation, landslides, environmental hazards, floods, population pressures and death all stay as well."There is romance in the Monsoon season but there is a reverse side as well — floods, death and deprivation”.

     Frater’s account moves from being a blissful longing for the torrential rains he had heard so much about to the emotion of awe on facing the deluge which he considered to be a “roaring cataract of falling, foaming water.” There were moments when he greeted the first rains, like that in Cochin, and then there were others when he just missed them, like that in Goa.

    “At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started. Two hours fifty minutes later racing cumulus extinguished the sun and left everything washed in an inky violet light. At 4.50, announced by deafening ground-level thunderclaps, the monsoon finally rode into Cochin. The cloud-base blew through the trees like smoke; rain foamed on the hotel’s harbor side lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog. In the coffee shop the waiters rushed to the windows, clapping and yelling, their customers forgotten. One, emerging from the kitchen bearing a teapot destined for the conference room, glimpsed the magniloquent spectacle outside, banged the teapot down on my table and ran to join them crying, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!,” wrote Frater about the arrival of monsoons in Cochin.

    For Frater, the monsoons in India remained the ideal romantic phenomenon that was the key to the country’s charm despite its impoverishment. “As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all - the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat - well, that remained the monsoon,” writes Frater. “I made the journey for both of us, to fulfill my father’s dream”.

    Tourism India, India's Travel & Tourism Magazine, Kerala, India.



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