Pilgrims are arriving from all over the world in India for Kumbh Mela. Considered to be the biggest religious festival in the entire world, the Mela offers a potent mix of spirituality, tourism and politics. The Kumbh Mela is scheduled to start on Tuesday, the 15th of January, 2019.
The festival will continue for 8 weeks at Prayagraj, the city formerly known as Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh, which is a northern state of India. During this period, authorities are expecting around 150 million visitors to the township. Of them, around a million will be foreigners. These visitors will be coming in to bathe in the confluence of three rivers. They are the River Ganges, the River Yamuna and, finally, the mythical river Saraswati.
The confluence of these rivers is called Sangam and devotees believe that a holy dip during Kumbh Mela will absolve their sins and bring salvation from the endless cycle of death and life, according to the Hindu scriptures. It is a belief that brings together millions from all over India and the world, despite the rather cold temperatures.
Over 80% of the 1.3 billion people living in India are Hindus. Most of them are immensely religious. During the start of the Kumbh Mela on Tuesday, naked and ash covered ascetics, locally known as ‘nanga sadhus’, will lead the pilgrims into the cold waters at the break of dawn for the first bath. This is called Shahi Snan or, in English, Royal Bath. Most of these ascetics will spend the rest of the year in caves meditating which means this is the only time that devotees can meet these holy men.