01/03/2007, 00.00
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50 million Hindus expected in Allahabad as Kumbh Mela gets under way

One of the largest religious gatherings in the world, it is held every six years. The fulcrum of the pilgrimage is the ritual bathing of purification at the confluence India’s three most renowned sacred rivers.

Allahabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Millions of Hindu pilgrims are heading for the city of Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) in northern India for one of the biggest religious meetings in the world: the Ardh Khumb Mela. The event started today and will last 45 days. It is held every six years and hinges on Sangam, the confluence of the country’s three most renowned holy rivers: Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati. A crucial moment of the pilgrimage is the ritual bathing in the holy waters. Believers are already plunging into its waters regardless of the low temperature and strong wind.


In Vedic Scriptures, it is said that paradise can be gained by living in the confluence of the three sacred rivers for at least three days and liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth may be obtained through purification by swimming in the holy waters at auspicious moments. The precise dates of the festival, based on the lunar and not the solar calendar, vary from one year to the next. The police have warned that the crucial days will be 14, 15, 19 and 23 January.


The Indian authorities are expecting 10 million people to turn up today alone. The government finances the event: tents have been set up across a huge area capable of hosting two million people.


Security is high. "Controlling crowds will be our top priority as we are expecting up to 50 million people throughout the festival,” said a local state official. There are 20,000 policemen deployed across the area to prevent dangerous overcrowding. Many will be in plain clothes.


According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war for a vase (called kumbh) of divine nectar. Allahabad is one of the four cities where the nectar fell during the battle. The war lasted 12 divine days and thus a complete Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years during which time a meeting is held half-way through, called the Ardh Kumbh Mela.

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