AP PHOTOS: The Hindu festival attracts crowds bathing to the rivers
From RAJESH KUMAR SINGH
PRAYAGRAZH, India (AP) – Millions of people have joined a 45-day Hindu bathing festival in the northern Indian city of Prayagraj, where devotees are immersed in Sangam, the sacred confluence of several rivers. There they bathe on certain days, considered auspicious with the belief that they will be cleansed of all sins.
Rows and rows of colorful tents, in which the devotees indulge, line up on the extensive site of the festival. Millions of Hindus travel each year to an event called Mag Mela, where worshipers offer prayers and enter the sacred waters where the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati meet.
In Hinduism, this period is called Kalpvas, and devotees who choose to stay all the time are known as Kalpvasis. They give up their daily routine and instead camp on the spot, live on frugal meals and perform rituals.
Virender Kumar Shukla, a Kalpwasi devotee, is attending for the fifth time. He said he hoped, by offering prayers, he would “find a place in heaven” and win a “better rebirth.”
Authorities took months to build what looked like a temporary city with tents on the river bank. Police patrolled the area and built floating bridges to help people cross from one side of the river to the other. Boats ferry pilgrims from the banks of the Yamuna to Sangama, where they bathe in holy water and offer their prayers.
The festival is taking place, although cases of COVID-19 in some parts of the country are increasing after months of steady decline. India has confirmed 11 million cases and more than 150,000 deaths.
Health officials told local media that they had tested tens of thousands of fans for the virus since the festival began on January 14th. It should end on February 27.