Tens of thousands take holy dip at India's Kumbh Mela

Organisers have increased safety measures in a bid to avoid a repeat of deadly stampede at the same venue 12 years ago


Afp August 29, 2015
Sadhus or Hindu holy men pray along the Godavari river during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at "Kumbh Mela", or Pitcher Festival in Nashik, India, August 29, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus took part in the religious gathering at the banks of the Godavari river in Nashik city at the festival, which is held every 12 years in different Indian cities. PHOTO: REUTERS

NASHIK, INDIA: Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims and holy men washed away their sins with a religious dip on the first main bathing day of India's Kumbh Mela festival Saturday.

Organisers had increased safety measures in a bid to avoid a repeat of a deadly stampede at the same venue 12 years ago, and said the mass bathe had so far passed without major incident.

"No, nothing like that, it all went well," K. Moghe, the district information officer for Nashik in India's western Maharashtra state, told AFP.

Read: India's Kumbh Mela festival to open amid stampede fears

The Kumbh Mela -- a celebration of faith in which Hindus bathe in a sacred river -- is held every third year and is rotated between four holy sites.

Sadhus or Hindu holy men shout religious hymns as they arrive to take a dip in the Godavari river during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at "Kumbh Mela", or Pitcher Festival in Nashik, India, August 29, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus took part in the religious gathering at the banks of the Godavari river in Nashik city at the festival, which is held every 12 years in different Indian cities. PHOTO: REUTERS

As a result, it takes place at Nashik every 12 years and although it isn't on the same scale as the editions on the Ganges at Haridwar and the Saraswati at Allahabad, it still draws millions of pilgrims.

Thirty-nine pilgrims were trampled to death when the religious festival was last held on the banks of the Godavari river in Nashik, around 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Mumbai, in 2003.

The crush was believed to have been triggered when a sadhu, or holy man, threw coins into a crowd of pilgrims who were growing increasingly impatient at having to wait for their turn to bathe.

When the coins were thrown they scrambled to gather them resulting in dozens of people suffocating, according to reports at the time.

Nashik is unique out of the four venues in that it has two main bathing sites, the Godavari river in Nashik and nearby Trimbakeshwar temple ghat, stretching the emergency services across a wide area.

For this year's edition, officials changed the routes to the ghats to avoid steep slopes while a massive police presence of around 20,000 officers ensured little overcrowding and first aid workers stood ready.

Dreadlocked sadhus, naked and with their faces painted, were first to bathe, entering the water at Trimbakeshwar shortly before 4:00 am (2230 GMT Friday).

Other sects quickly followed, shedding their orange robes and splashing joyously in the ghat before being moved on hastily by police to make way for the next wave of devotees.

Read: 27 crushed to death at Kumbh Mela in India

The Kumbh Mela has its origins in Hindu mythology, which describes how a few drops of the nectar of immortality fell on all of the places that host the festival, the fourth being Ujjain in central India.

Between eight and ten million pilgrims are expected to attend the two-month-long Hindu festival this year.

There are two main bathing dates left, on September 13 and September 18.

COMMENTS (4)

The Khan-Waterloo,Ontario | 6 years ago | Reply @Khan: I have been there and it's disgusting. I am not even exaggerating here. So dirty.
Brar | 6 years ago | Reply @Gradiator: @Khan: Khan Sahib I wish could do some thing in this regard but will not be able to do being on the bed for the last 23 years, pray your wish will be full filled, I am Sikh and we do,nt believe in such customes but there is no harm in knowing any thing. Allah is great and your wish will be full filled. It is not necessary to take a dip .
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