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Hindu Kumbha Mela Festival Draws Thousands to Irvine

Rare ceremonies are held on the eve of 9/11 to seek peace. `I wanted to experience something spiritual and cultural,' says one participant.

September 11, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Thousands of Hindus gathered Sunday at UC Irvine during a rare Kumbha Mela religious festival to help bring spiritual peace to devotees and to the world on the eve of Sept. 11.

"We hope today's celebration, held on the day before 9/11, can bring positive energy and peace to the Earth," said Rama Kumar of Orange, one of the organizers.

In India, the festival is held at irregular intervals four times within each 12-year period and draws millions of devotees.

The event has been held infrequently in the United States, but Sunday's festival marked one of the largest gatherings on the West Coast, organizers said.

More than 18 Southern California organizations took part in the festival, which featured a quarter-mile procession with an estimated 4,000 chanting marchers who carried pictures and images of deities and spiritual leaders from various temples.

"With Hindus, we have the same god but the body may be different such as Krishna or Balaji.

"But the goal of inner peace is the same," said Satya Gundavasapu, 36, of Irvine, who brought his son, Raghav, 7, to the festival.

The procession ended at the university's Bren Center where a portable pond was erected.

According to tradition, the spiritual idols were immersed in the pond filled with water gathered from 21 Indian rivers by participants and their families.

The blessed water was then sprinkled on devotees.

"For years, thousands have prayed to these deities," Kumar said.

"In turn, the deities transfer that special blessing to the water and then to the people."

In addition to the water, rice to feed festival participants was cooked by hundreds of Hindu households and taken to the university.

Other foods such as garbanzo beans and sweet rice were offered to devotees as nourishment during the procession.

The sacred festival has two traditional explanations. One involves an alignment of planets, especially Jupiter, which occurs every 12 years.

The other involves how gods and demons agreed to work together to get amrita, the nectar of immortality.

However, when the Kumbha, or pot, with the amrita appeared, the demons ran away with it and were chased by the gods.

For 12 days and nights, the equivalent to 12 human years, the gods and demons fought for possession of the pot.

During the battle, drops of amrita fell on four places in India.

Today, the specific time and date for each Kumbha Mela observation are set by religious leaders.

Dr. Murthy Andavolu, a physician who drove from Palm Springs to attend Sunday's festival, said he wanted to see what the festival was like.

"I'm here because this has been an intellectual curiosity," said Andavolu, who grew up in India but had not previously observed the Kumbha Mela.

Praveena Mishra, a Fiji-born registered nurse from Lake Forest, said she had heard about the festival for years and was eager to participate.

"I even brought my daughter with me," she said.

"I wanted to experience something spiritual and cultural."

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david.reyes@latimes.com

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