News / Asia

Millions of Hindus Flock to the Ganges

Indian Hindu holy men run naked into the water at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the royal bath at the start of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, Janaury 14, 2013.
Indian Hindu holy men run naked into the water at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the royal bath at the start of the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, Janaury 14, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
In India, millions of people have taken a dip at the confluence of two rivers in the northern city, Allahabad, at the start of a major Hindu festival held every 12 years. The 55-day event is expected to attract a staggering 100 million pilgrims.   

As holy chants resounded, naked and scantily clad Hindu priests smeared with ash arrived in colorful processions to take a dip at one of Hinduism’s holiest spots -- the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati River in Allahabad. Some came in ornately decorated chariots. Others came brandishing tridents and sticks as the Kumbh Festival got underway on Monday.

They were followed by hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees who thronged the river’s banks and took a ritual bath. The holy dip is believed to cleanse them of their sins. They came from all corners of the country and represented a microcosm of urban and rural India - rich and poor, men, women and children.  

The manager of Kumbh Mela, Om Prakash Srivastava, says that by noon, about five million worshipers had braved the winter chill and taken a dip.

He says, despite thick fog at night, many people began bathing as early as 2:30 am to avoid the crowds in the day. He says ten million would have bathed by the end of the day.

  • An elderly Hindu woman takes a holy dip at Gangasagar, India, January 14, 2013.
  • Hindu devotees arrive in the northern city of Allahabad to attend the first grand bath of the Kumbh Mela, India, January 14, 2013.
  • An Indian Hindu man jumps up and down in the water as he takes a dip at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, during the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, January 14, 2013.
  • Hindu holymen prepare to take a holy dip during first grand bath of the Kumbh Mela, in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, January 14, 2013.
  • An Indian Hindu volunteer carries a life preserver as he watches the fence line in the bathing area at Sangam at the start of Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India, January 14, 2013.
  • Hindu devotees cross pontoon bridges spanning the river Ganges during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at the ongoing "Kumbh Mela", or Pitcher Festival, in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, January 14, 2013.

During the next 55 days, nearly 100 million people are expected to attend the festival, which has been billed as the biggest gathering in the world.

The festival is believed to date back 2000 years. According to Hindu mythology, when gods and demons fought over a pitcher of nectar that gives immortality, some drops fell on four towns, including Allahabad. These towns host the festival in rotation. The one at Allahabad is believed to be the holiest and surpasses the others in its sheer scale and size.   

Preparing for the mega event is no easy task. A virtual township has been erected to cater to the vast crowds. Temporary medical camps, roads, bridges and toilets have been built. About 30,000 policemen are posted to manage the huge influx and guard against stampedes or terror attacks. The cost to the administration: about $300 million.

Ensuring that the water is safe and pure for devotees is also a challenge in a river which is among India’s most polluted.

Following concerns expressed by Hindu priests and others, Srivastava says the government has ordered industries that discharge untreated effluents into the river to shut down.   

He says the government has also flushed the river with extra water to ensure that it is clean and free flowing. Plastic bags have been banned.

Although pilgrims will come and go over the coming weeks, the Hindu priests who often lead rival sects, pitch camp for more than a month. Some of them are keeping pace with the times. One of them is holding a two-day seminar to debate environmental imbalance and green issues related to the Ganges River. Another, Swami Avdheshanand Giri Ji, has a Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid