Hin­dus gather for world’s largest fest

Business Day - - INTERNATIONAL - Agency Staff Al­la­habad

Hindu devo­tees be­gan gath­er­ing on Sun­day in north­ern In­dia for the world’s largest re­li­gious fes­ti­val, with mil­lions of pil­grims trav­el­ling to bathe in holy rivers for the spec­tac­u­lar Kumbh Mela.

State au­thor­i­ties in Ut­tar Pradesh ex­pect 12-mil­lion vis­i­tors to de­scend on Al­la­habad for the cen­turies-old fes­ti­val, which of­fi­cially be­gins on Tues­day and con­tin­ues un­til early March.

The an­cient city rises along­side the banks of the Ganges, Ya­muna and myth­i­cal Saraswati rivers, and the meet­ing point of the three is con­sid­ered highly sa­cred in Hin­duism.

Hin­dus be­lieve bathing there dur­ing the Kumbh helps cleanse sins and frees the soul from the cy­cle of death and re­birth.

Two days be­fore the gi­gan­tic bathing rit­ual be­gins, naked holy men wan­der the banks smeared in ash, of­fer­ing bless­ings for devo­tees.

“We help devo­tees to get rid of their pains and trou­bles through our bless­ings, sa­cred ash, yoga, knowl­edge and wis­dom,” said Prahlad Puri, a holy man whose long knot­ted hair had been tied in a bun. “We dis­trib­ute food, we serve the poor.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hindu mythol­ogy, gods and demons fought a war over a sa­cred pitcher, or kumbh, which con­tained the nec­tar of im­mor­tal­ity.

Dur­ing the tus­sle, a few drops fell to earth at four dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, with one be­ing Al­la­habad.

The his­toric city was re­cently re­named Praya­graj by the state’s con­ser­va­tive Hindu gov­ern­ment but is still widely known by Al­la­habad, the name it was given by Mus­lim rulers hun­dreds of years ago.

The Mela, which runs un­til March 4, was recog­nised as an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage by the UN Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2017.

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