Hindu bathing festival attracts record numbers

11th Mar 2013

An astonishing 120 million people made the pilgrimage to India to take part in the world's largest religious festival, according to official estimates.

The two-month-long Kumbh Mela Hindu festival is held every 12 years on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Allahabad.

Worshippers flock to the confluence of holy rivers the Ganges and Yamuna to bathe in their waters. The Kumbh Mela lasts 55 days, a period determined by an astrological calculation, with this year's festival kicking off in January.

"Over 60 million people attended the festival in 2001 and this time we believe 120 million people have participated," festival chief Mani Prasad Mishra said.

Vast crowds of devotees and tourists, naked, ash-smeared holy men, priests and self-proclaimed saints plunged into the holy waters to wash away their sins.

The festival's origins lie deep in Hindu mythology, which tells the tale of how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four places that host the festival - Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar.

"People from all walks of life participate in the festival but there is one thing common among all of them - they have a desire to lead a pure life," said Chandra Bala, a temple priest in Allahabad city.

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