100 mil. head to Ganges for Kumbh Mela festival
By Adam Plowright, AFPNEW DELHI--A procession of around 100 million devotees, from naked sprinting gurus to worshippers completing simple rituals, will stream into the river Ganges this week for the world's biggest festival.
January 14, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
The Kumbh Mela in northern India, starting Monday and stretching over 55 days, attracts ash-covered holy men who run into the frigid waters, a smattering of international celebrities, as well as millions upon millions of ordinary Indians.
Its name translates as the “Pitcher Festival” and every three years it provides a unique spectacle of color, noise and Hindu religious devotion, particularly on what are deemed to be the most auspicious bathing days.
Worshippers, who believe a dip in the holy waters cleanses them of their sins, have already begun arriving in the host town of Allahabad and millions more are on their way, heading for makeshift accommodation and campsites.
“The biggest challenge for us is to ensure that we are able to provide an opportunity to each and every person to bathe on the auspicious days without any stampede,” Devesh Chaturvedi, a top Allahabad administrator, told AFP.
The scale of the organization required for a festival that was marred by 45 deaths in a crush in 2003, when it was held in the western Indian town of Nasik, is staggering.
Allahabad, at the confluence of the rivers Yamuna and Ganges in northern Uttar Pradesh state, last hosted the festival in 2001 when an estimated 110 million pilgrims passed through without incident.
Organizers are preparing to receive just as many people this time, with an average influx of around two million a day.