The Kumbh festival is related to the myth about the churning of the ocean to get the nectar of immortality. The churning was done by both the gods and the demons. After the churning, there was a fight over distribution of the nectar. Some stories suggest that Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a beautiful lady and seized the nectar. While fleeing from the demons he placed the nectar on Garuda. A few drops fell on Allahabad, Nashik, Haridwar and Ujjain. Since then Kumbh Melas are held at these sites. Another version of the story suggests that during the chase the pot (Kumbh) was kept on the ground and the places where it was kept later became the sites of the festival. As the story goes, it took 12 days to carry the nectar to heaven. One day of the gods is equal to one human year, and hence the festival is celebrated every 12 years.

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The first written evidence of the Kumbh Mela comes from the writings of legendary Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who became famous because of his 17-year journey to India during the reign of Harshavardhana of Kannauj. Between CE 629-644, Tsang travelled across the length and breadth of the country. Several historians link this festival to Shankaracharya, the famous religious preacher. The eighth-century Hindu theologian and philosopher travelled across the country to revive Hinduism which at that point of time was being threatened by Jainism and Buddhism. Many experts believe that the Kumbh Mela might be linked with his efforts for the revival of the Hindu religion.

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