Pilgrims flock to the Ganges for world's biggest festival
ALLAHABAD, India (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims led by naked ash-covered holy men begin entering the sacred river Ganges on Monday at the start of the world's biggest religious festival.
The Kumbh Mela in the Indian town of Allahabad will see up to 100 million Hindus gather over the next 55 days to take a ritual bath in the holy waters, believed to cleanse sins and bestow blessings.
At dawn on Monday at a time chosen by astrologers as auspicious, hundreds of gurus, some brandishing swords and tridents, will run into the swirling and freezing waters for the first bath, signalling the start of events.
Assorted holymen, seers and self-proclaimed saints from all over the country have assembled for a colourful spectacle that offers a rare glimpse of the dizzying variety of Indian spiritualism. "Our biggest wish is that there is peace and that people should look after each other," one Naga Sadhu, a devout, fierce and famously nude sect of followers of the Hindu god Shiva, told AFP.