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Hindu festival draws crowds of bathers to rivers

by RAJESH KUMAR SINGH THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | February 28, 2021 at 3:39 a.m.
A health worker takes nasal swab samples of Hindu holy men, to test for COVID-19 next to a poster of Hindu God Hanuman during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

PRAYAGRAJ, India -- Millions of people have joined a 45-day Hindu bathing festival in the northern Indian city of Prayagraj, where devotees take a dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of several rivers. There, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they will be cleansed of all sins.

Rows and rows of colorful tents, in which the devotees stay, line the sprawling festival site. Millions of Hindus travel every year to the event, called Magh Mela, where pilgrims offer prayers and enter the holy waters where the Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers meet.

In Hinduism, this period is called Kalpvas and the devotees who choose to stay for the entire time are known as Kalpvasis. They give up their daily routine and instead camp at the site, living on frugal meals and performing rituals.

Virender Kumar Shukla, a Kalpvasi devotee, is attending for the fifth time. He said he hopes by offering prayers to "find a place in heaven" and earn "a better rebirth."

Authorities took months to build what looks like a temporary tented city on the river banks. Police patrol the site and floating bridges were built to help people get from one side of the river to the other. Boats ferry pilgrims from the bank of the Yamuna to the Sangam, where they bathe in the holy water and offer their prayers.

The festival is being held even though covid-19 cases in some parts of the country are rising after months of steady decline. India has confirmed 11 million cases and over 150,000 deaths.

Health officials have told local media that they have tested tens of thousands of pilgrims for the virus since the festival began on Jan. 14. It is set to end on Feb. 27.

CORRECTS DATE - Devotees take holy dips at the Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for religious leaders and believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
CORRECTS DATE - Devotees take holy dips at the Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for religious leaders and believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu pilgrim prays during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu pilgrim prays during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees take holy dips at Sangam during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees take holy dips at Sangam during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man prays as others shower flower petals on him during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man prays as others shower flower petals on him during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men pray on the banks of the river Ganges during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men pray on the banks of the river Ganges during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men prepare food on the banks of the river Ganges during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men prepare food on the banks of the river Ganges during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees arrive at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati for Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees arrive at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati for Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees pray and take holy dips at Sangam, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees pray and take holy dips at Sangam, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Virender Kumar Shukla, a Kalpvasi or a devotee who chooses to stay for the entire time of the festival, blesses his wife as she touches his feet after a holy dip at the Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Virender Kumar Shukla, a Kalpvasi or a devotee who chooses to stay for the entire time of the festival, blesses his wife as she touches his feet after a holy dip at the Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Women devotees pray to a calf after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Women devotees pray to a calf after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men pray on the bank of the river Ganges during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Hindu Holy men pray on the bank of the river Ganges during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man smears ash on his hair after a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man smears ash on his hair after a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man lies in front of an image of Hindu Goddess of learning Saraswati, at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu Holy man lies in front of an image of Hindu Goddess of learning Saraswati, at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Inspector General of Police Kavinder Pratap Singh patrols on horseback during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Inspector General of Police Kavinder Pratap Singh patrols on horseback during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A family takes a selfie after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A family takes a selfie after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees and pilgrims eat at a free food camp, at Sangam, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Devotees and pilgrims eat at a free food camp, at Sangam, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu priest prepares vermillion paste for pilgrims at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu priest prepares vermillion paste for pilgrims at Sangam during Magh mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu holy man watches pilgrims walk past during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu holy man watches pilgrims walk past during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu holy, man smokes after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021.  Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
A Hindu holy, man smokes after a holy dip at Sangam during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021. Millions of people have joined a 45-day long Hindu bathing festival in this northern Indian city, where devotees take a holy dip at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Here, they bathe on certain days considered to be auspicious in the belief that they be cleansed of all sins. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Pilgrims take holy dips early morning at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Pilgrims take holy dips early morning at Sangam, the sacred confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, during Magh Mela festival, in Prayagraj, India. Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Hindus believe that ritual bathing on auspicious days can cleanse them of all sins. A tented city for the religious leaders and the believers has come up at the sprawling festival site with mounted police personnel keeping a close watch on the activities. The festival is being held amid rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
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