Kumbh means pot whereas mela means festival. But why call it kumbh mela? The name refers to the mythological story of when the gods and demons came together to churn a pot of amrit (nectar of immortality) from the ocean. Vasuki, the king of serpents was decided to be the rope and was tied around Meru mountain. When the churning started, 14 treasures came out of the ocean- kamadhenu (a wish fulfilling cow), airavat (an elephant with 4 tusks and also became lord Indra’s mount), uchhaih-ashrava ( a white horse), parijata kalpavriksha (wish fulfilling tree), koustubha mani (diamond), goddess Lakshmi ( lord Vishnu’s wife), apsaras (celestial maidens), chandra (moon), madira (goddess of wine), haridhanu (divine bow), panchajanya (lord Vishnu’s conch), poison from Vasuki’s mouth (the poison threatened to contaminate the ocean and amrit, therefore lord Shiva took the poison and held it in his throat, which made his throat blue. This gave got him the name ‘Neelkanth’ which means ‘the blue throated one’), Lord Dhanvantri (physician for the gods) who brought along with him the 14th treasure, amrit.
The gods later realized that if the demons got to have amrit and became immortal, they would broing destruction to the world. They called Lord Indra’s son Jayant and told him to take the amrit and run towards heaven. To stop him from escaping, the demons and god’s eventually fought for 12 days and 12 nights (12 years in human years). During the fight, the amritkumbh (pot with amrit) was kept down 12 times. The god of sun protected the pot, the god of moon stayed near it so that the heat of the sun wouldn’t evaporate the amrit and the planet Jupiter (guru) fought the demons to protect the pot. Because the sun and Jupiter actively participated in the protection of the amritkumbh, their positions are considered to choose the dates to host the Kumbh Mela. The location of Kumbh Mela was decided because during the fight, four drops of amrit fell on earth, which were on Prayag (now Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Devotees believe that at the chosen location and time, the rivers along these locations turn into amrit, which gives devotees a chance to take a dip in the holy nectar and purify themselves.