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Kumbh Mela: Prayagraj gears up for world's largest religious festival

Updated : 2019-01-14 13:08:59

Pilgrims from across the world are gathering in India for the Kumbh Mela, a heady mix of spirituality, politics and tourism that begins on Tuesday, garnering extra attention ahead of a general election in the Hindu-majority country this year.

During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, authorities expect up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.

Devout Hindus believe that bathing in the waters of the Ganges absolves people of sins and bathing at the time of the Kumbh Mela, or the "festival of the pot", brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.

On Tuesday millions of pilgrims, led by naked, ash-smeared ascetics, some of whom live in caves, will plunge themselves into the icy waters during the first Shahi Snan, or Royal Bath, that begins around 4 AM.

With less than 24 hours until the festival starts, the last of the arriving ascetics paraded towards temporary ashrams, or monasteries, built of corrugated steel and canvas on the eastern banks of the Ganges, many decked in fairy lights.

Pilgrims poured in to the site, which is closed to traffic around bathing days, carrying bundles on their heads, while vendors peddled neon balloons and cotton candy, as security men stood guard, with priests and armed police seated side-by-side.

Image Courtesy: Reuters/Associated Press (AP)

A devotee arrives to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
A devotee arrives to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Sadhus prepare to hoist a flag as part of a ritual marking the beginning of their camp at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India, Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Sadhus prepare to hoist a flag as part of a ritual marking the beginning of their camp at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India, Tuesday, January 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Sadhus hoist a flag as part of a ritual marking the beginning of their camp at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India, Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Millions of Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in the large religious congregation on the banks of Sangam during the Kumbh festival in January 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Sadhus hoist a flag as part of a ritual marking the beginning of their camp at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India, Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Millions of Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in the large religious congregation on the banks of Sangam during the Kumbh festival in January 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Sadhus participate in a religious procession towards the Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh Festival, in Allahabad, India, Friday, January 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Sadhus participate in a religious procession towards the Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, as part of the Kumbh Festival, in Allahabad, India, Friday, January 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Indian security personnel take oath to execute their duties honestly after offering prayers at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges and Yamuna ahead of the Kumbh Festival in Allahabad, india, Sunday, January 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Indian security personnel take oath to execute their duties honestly after offering prayers at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges and Yamuna ahead of the Kumbh Festival in Allahabad, india, Sunday, January 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Indian police personnel march through a pontoon bridge at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges and Yamuna as part of security arrangements for the Kumbh Festival in Allahabad, india, Sunday, January 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Indian police personnel march through a pontoon bridge at Sangam, the confluence of rivers Ganges and Yamuna as part of security arrangements for the Kumbh Festival in Allahabad, india, Sunday, January 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A devotee prays after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
A devotee prays after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Hindu pilgrims gather at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, to take holy dips during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Hindu pilgrims gather at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, to take holy dips during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu pilgrim prays at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu pilgrim prays at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu pilgrim prays at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu pilgrim prays at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Hindu pilgrims pray at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Hindu pilgrims pray at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu devotee takes a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Hindu devotee takes a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Hindu pilgrim pray at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Hindu pilgrim pray at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, Monday, January 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
Devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A devotee gets ready after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
A devotee gets ready after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Devotees arrive to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
Devotees arrive to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Devotees arrive to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
Devotees arrive to take a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Devotees sing and dance after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during
Devotees sing and dance after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers, during "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
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