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Quite Possibly The Biggest Gathering On Earth: Millions Of Hindus Bathe In Ganges River To Wash Away
January 14, 2013
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One of the world's largest religious festivals started today in India, with a ritual that is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Millions of Hindus took a dip in the chilly waters of the Ganges River, on the opening day of the Kumbh Mela festival.

The event runs for 55 days and is held every 12 years. It is billed as the biggest gathering on Earth, with more than 100 million people expected to attend.

Officials say every road leading to the festival grounds is packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

Hindus believe that by bathing in the water, it will wash away their sins and help bring them salvation.

As many as 10 or 11 million people were expected to take part by the end of the day.

As they chant Hindu scriptures, men, women and children step into the water at the Sangam.

That's where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers come together at the edge of Allahabad, a city in northern India.


The Kumbh Mela goes back centuries to Hindu mythology, and celebrates a victory by gods over demons.

Many believe the two sides waged a fierce battle over a pitcher of nectar, that would give them immortality.

During the fight, a few drops fell in the cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar - the four places where the festival has been held.

There are six days in particular that are considered favourable for bathing, as dictated by the alignment of the stars.


The biggest day will be February 10, when up to 35 million people are expected to go into the waters.

Allahabad has been preparing for the festival for months. Tens of thousands of pilgrims spent the night in tents or under trees.

About 50,000 police officers are on hand, to keep everything orderly.

14 temporary hospitals are set up with nearly 250 doctors on duty to deal with any health concerns - especially because the rivers are heavily polluted.

Most pilgrims drink a few drops of the Ganges water and many fill bottles to take home with them.


Last week, authorities warned nearby companies not to dump any chemicals or pollutants into the waters.

They also ordered reservoirs upstream to release fresh water into the rivers ahead of the six big bathing days.

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