Upwards of a million elated Hindu holy men and pilgrims took a bracing plunge in sacred Ganges river to wash away lifetimes of sins on Monday, in a raucous start to an ever-growing religious gathering here at at Maha Kumbh Mela.
Officials believe that over the next two months as many as 100 million people will pass through the temporary city that covers an area larger than Athens on a wide sandy riverbank. That would make it larger even than previous festivals.
After a slow start, police chief Alok Sharma said 1.5 million people had gathered by 8 a.m. on Monday, with more on their way.
The ritual 'Shahi Snan' (Royal Bath) was timed to match an auspicious planetary alignment, when believers say spiritual energy flows to earth.
"I came here to see all the people here together for bathing. I'm really happy I saw this. Everyone's been very nice. I'm really happy to see this festival and I want to come here again and again," said a devotee.
The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested from demons a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality.
Once every 12 years, tens of millions of pilgrims stream to Allahabad from across the country and abroad for the Maha Kumbh Mela at the Sangam, the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third, mythical river Saraswati.
To cope with the flow of people, state authorities have installed 35,000 toilets, laid 550 km of water pipes and 155 km of temporary roads at the riverbank site. (ANI)