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Millions of Hindus bathe in India's Ganges for purification

People bathing
Pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River on Monday   
April 13, 1998
Web posted at: 1:45 p.m. EDT (1745 GMT)

In this story:

From New Delhi Bureau Chief Anita Pratap

HARIDWAR, India (CNN) -- In the world's largest congregation of religious pilgrims, millions of Hindu worshippers will take a dip in the Ganges River to wash away their sins as part of a festival in the small town of Haridwar.

More than 3 million devotees were reported on Monday, and by Tuesday the total was expected to reach up to 10 million.

The two days, the holiest of the four-month Maha Kumbh Mela festival, represent a time when the river is believed to turn into a purifying nectar, allowing the faithful to cleanse their souls as they bathe.

'I feel pure'

"This pilgrimage is an ancient tradition that is sacred to us and gives inner peace," one worshipper told CNN.

Millions of Hindus bathe in India's Ganges for purification
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"I feel very good after taking a dip," another pilgrim said. "I feel pure."

Historic research points to Hindus celebrating the carnival for more than 2,000 years.

And, according to Hindu mythology, it dates back to the creation of the universe when gods and demons churned the oceans to retrieve the pot containing the nectar of immortality.

During the fierce battle for the pot, a few drops of nectar fell at four different spots in India -- Haridwar being one of them.

Worshippers -- especially Hindu monks -- now converge to commemorate the divine event, held once every 12 years.

Up to 10 million pilgrims are expected in Haridwar by Tuesday   

"We believe the gods revisit places they have made holy, so we have come in the belief that we may experience the presence of God here," one pilgrim said.

To host the festival, authorities in Haridwar -- in Uttar Pradesh state, some 105 miles (175 km) north of New Delhi -- have spent $25 million to build extra roads, bridges, camps, bathing places, drains, and toilets.

Organizers said participants had come from around the globe, including Austria, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.

Non-Hindus were once forbidden to attend the celebrations. But in a spirit of rapprochement, people of all faiths are now allowed to participate in the festivities.


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