4 February 2019 - At least 40 million Hindus, including holy men, pilgrims and foreign tourists, immersed themselves today in the sacred waters of Indian rivers to cleanse themselves of their sins.
Today is in fact the most auspicious day of the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage, currently underway in Allahabad. This most favourable day for the gods is called Mauni Amavasya and corresponds to the no moon day.
The ritual of the so-called festival (mela) of the pot (kumbha) involves people immersing themselves in the sacred waters at the confluence of three rivers – the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati – to expiate their sins.
The immersion is led by quasi naked holy men with their bodies covered in ashes, accompanied by songs and dances.
The city of Allahabad is located in the State of Uttar Pradesh (northern India) and was recently renamed Prayagraj because its traditional name was deemed "too Islamic".
The pilgrimage began on 15 January and is set to end on 4 March. Organisers expect at least 120 million people to take part in the event.
To accommodate such numbers, the authorities set up a mega tent city covering some 32 square kilometres, three times the size of Manhattan, with hospitals, banks, mobile kitchens and 120,000 chemical toilets. The huge waste collection apparatus includes special boats to skim the surface of the rivers.
Thousands of posters and giant pictures of India’s prime minister are visible in the tent city, strategically positioned near immersion points.
This is an election year (April-May) for the Indian parliament. The pilgrimage thus gives the ruling party “free advertising”.
Indeed, according to the traditional rotation between the four sacred cities (Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nashik), the Kumbh Mela was supposed to take place in 2020. Instead, it was anticipated by one year to attract Hindu voters to Uttar Pradesh and the nationalists.