Authorities in India are getting ready to welcome the world’s largest gathering of 10 million Hindus who are expected to enter the Ganges River early Monday to “cleanse” their sins in a festival held every 12 years.
Already naked ash-smeared holy men with long hair and beards are taking their positions for a large procession to the riverbank in Allahabad where the Ganges joins the Yamuna River and according to Hindu belief, the mythical Saraswati River.
The procession will enter the river at 5:00 a.m. amid chanting and blowing of conch shells. The temperature of the water is expected to drop to about 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit); this is not however expected to deter the masses who will enter with hands clasped in prayer and wade knee deep in the frigid waters.
It is a Hindu belief that bathing in the Ganges during the festival can cleanse their sins and free them from a cycle of death and rebirth.
Pilgrims from India and overseas are expected to attend the 5-day Maha Kumb festival. The festival’s name is derived from a Hindu belief that gods and demons fought over a pitcher or “kumbh”, of nectar that would give them immortality.
According to myths, one of the gods ran off with the pot, spilling four drops of nectar. Every three years, festivals are rotated among the four spots where nectar was said to have been spilled.