By Mirembe Martina
To wash their sins away, hundreds and hundreds of Hindus entered naked the cold waters at Sangam, where three rivers, the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati meet.
The 55 day religious ceremony took place in the Indian city of Allahabad. According to a top festival official, nearly 3million people had bathed by late Monday morning and 11million were expected to enter the frigid water by the end of the day. The bathing ceremony is among the six auspicious bathing days, decided by the alignment of stars, when the Hindu devout bathe to wash away their sins and free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth.
The bathing process was initiated by religious heads of different Hindu monasteries who reached the bathing points, called ghats, riding silver chariots. Some were carried on silver palanquins, accompanied by marching bands. Men in underpants, women in saris and children – naked and clothed – chanted from Hindu scriptures as they walked into the icy-cold water.
The heads of the monasteries threw flowers on the devotees as they shouted ‘Har har gangey’ – ‘Long live Ganges’. About 50,000 policemen were deployed to keep order at the festival, fearing everything from terrorist attacks to the ever-present danger of stampedes of pilgrims.
According to Hindu mythology, the Kumbh Mela celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a furious battle over a nectar that would give them immortality.