100 million head to Ganges for Kumbh Mela festival

A Hindu devotee is helped by her relatives as she takes a dip in the waters of river Ganges in Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh oln Jan 12, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A procession of around 100 million devotees, from naked sprinting gurus to worshippers completing simple rituals, will stream into the river Ganges next week for the world's biggest festival.

The Kumbh Mela in northern India, starting on Monday and stretching over 55 days, attracts ash-covered holy men who run into the frigid waters, a smattering of international celebrities, as well as millions upon millions of ordinary Indians.

Its name translates as the "Pitcher Festival" and every three years it provides a unique spectacle of colour, noise and Hindu religious devotion, particularly on what are deemed to be the most auspicious bathing days.

Worshippers, who believe a dip in the holy waters cleanses them of their sins, have already begun arriving in the host town of Allahabad and millions more are on their way, heading for makeshift accommodation and campsites.