Ten million Hindu pilgrims led by hundreds of ash-covered, naked holy men streamed into the sacred waters of the river Ganges on Wednesday at the world’s biggest religious festival.
The date, chosen by astrologers, is the “main royal bathing day” of the Kumbh Mela, a 104-day event held in India every three years that is a riot of colour and noise as well as a gigantic spectacle of religious piety.
Devotees assembled along a 15-kilometre (nine-mile) stretch of the Ganges for a dip in the river that they believe cleanses them of sin and frees them from the cycle of life and rebirth.
The highest-ranking holy men, the naked “naga sadhus”, consider themselves spiritual guardians of the Hindu faith and fiercely defend their right to bathe at the most auspicious moment.
Arriving at the riverside in Haridwar city at a jog, they chanted joyfully and brandished golden tridents, swords and sticks before throwing marigold garlands in the river and then plunging in themselves.
Sadhus are ascetics or wandering monks who renounce normal life and often live alone in remote mountains and forests devoting themselves to meditation, but emerge to lead the Kumbh Mela bathing sessions.
“Everything is going very smoothly and there has been no problem with any unruly mobs,” Ashok Sharma, a press spokesman for the event, told AFP. “More than one crore (10 million) people are bathing today.”
But in one reported accident, two women pilgrims were killed after being run over by a speeding car carrying naga sadhus, the Press Trust of India news agency said, citing police.
Dozens of one-way footbridges criss-cross the Ganges around Haridwar and a massive police presence of 16,000 personnel was on hand to prevent crowd congestion that has triggered deadly stampedes in the past.
Hundreds were crushed to death underfoot in 1954 and dozens also died in 2003. …
via AFP: Millions dip in Ganges at world’s biggest festival.