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Millions of Hindu faithful gather at Ganges to wash away sins

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The holy Hindu ritual of "Maha Kumbh Mela," began last month and ends in March. Taking place every 12 years in Allahabad, smaller, similar events are held every three years in other locations around India. Millions of Hindus have gathered here for a holy bath in India's sacred Ganges River to wash away their sins. It is by far the most auspicious day of the world's largest religious festival.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The faithful gather at an area called Sangam, which is the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna and a third mystical waterway called the Saraswati. Hindus believe that entering the mighty rivers cleanses them of sin and frees them from the cycle of rebirth.

Naked saints, smeared in ash led the ritual bathing before dawn with millions of Hindus following them into the swirling river waters at the festival site in northern India.

Allahabad, a city of 1.2 million grew to about 40 million this weekend, with about 20 million packed inside the vast sealed-off bathing area on the banks of the river, a government spokesperson said.

Thousands of volunteers on duty and police urged the pilgrims to take one short dip in the water  and then leave the freezing waters to make space for others behind them.

"Aerial surveys by choppers, flying cameras and our estimates put the figure at around 20 million people taking a holy dip in the rivers," a representative told reporters. "Public address systems are asking people to leave the [steps] after bathing to avoid a crush."

The event offers a rare glimpse of the dizzying range of Indian spiritualism. Assorted dreadlocked holy men, seers and self-proclaimed saints from all over the country have assembled for the spectacle.

Pilgrims described being spiritually uplifted and amazed by the scale of the event.

More than 7,000 policemen have been deployed to oversee the bathing ritual, along with 30,000 volunteers, police say.

"The security is in full swing and our first concern as of now is the smooth exit of people after bathing as the number of devotees at Kumbh on this day has surpassed our expectations," police officer Ganganath Tripathi told reporters.

The festival has its origins in Hindu mythology, which describes how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four places that host the festival - Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. The "Mother Ganges" is worshipped as a god and is seen as the giver and taker of life.

"One dip in the river has the power to change life forever," 65-year-old Malti Devi from London, who was taking part in the festivities for the first time said.

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