Tens of millions of Hindus are expected to gather for the holiest day of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival in the world. Devotees will bathe in the Ganges River to wash away their sins.
Thousands of buses and special trains were ferrying people from across India to the city of Allahabad in the northern Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday, where they will participate in the holiest day of the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage.
Some 30 million Hindu devotees are expected to bathe in the Ganges River, which is worshipped as a god and considered the giver and taker of life. Hindus believe that bathing at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers washes away their sins and breaks the cycle of rebirth. Some also believe that three billion Hindu deities will be bathing in the river to bless mankind.
"One dip in the river has the power to change life forever," Malti Devi, a 65-year-old from London who is participating for the first time, told the AFP news agency.
More than 7,000 police officers have been deployed to oversee the bathing ritual, along with another 30,000 volunteers. Police said they are guarding against human stampedes, a frequent occurrence at Indian religious festivals.
"Take a dip and move out of the water - those are the instructions we are giving," Manikant Mishra, an administrator for Kumbh Mela, told AFP.
Kumbh Mela has its roots in Hindu mythology, which says that drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four cities that host the festival: Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. The pilgrimage rotates between those four cities every third year.
Kumbh Mela begins in January and lasts until March. Management of the pilgrimage requires a budget of some 16 trillion rupees ($290 million, 217 million euros).
slk/ ch (AFP, dpa)