Hindu Kumbh Mela Festival


BOB ABERNETHY, host: Finally, the world’s largest religious festival got underway in India this week. Kim Lawton has more.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: For the next two months, as many as 100 million Hindu pilgrims are expected to converge in northern India for the Maha Kumba Mela or Big Pitcher festival. It happens only once every 12 years. The pilgrims believe their sins will be washed away by bathing at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet a third mystical river. The festival has been taking place for more than 2,000 years, and officials say this may be the biggest celebration yet.

The event commemorates a Hindu story that describes the god Vishnu fight with demons to gain possession of a golden pitcher containing the nectar of immortality. During the battle, some drops fell to the earth. Smaller Kumbh Mela festivals are held more often at the spots where tradition says those drops fell. But this Big Pitcher Festival is considered the holiest. Hindu sages and hermits come out of their seclusion, and the event has also become a meeting point for yoga practitioners from around the world.

Authorities have constructed makeshift tents and medical facilities in the small town where the pilgrims are gathering, but security is a huge challenge. Another problem: dealing with the already-severe pollution in the Ganges River. The government has banned pilgrims from using plastic bags and asked them not to use soap. Industries in the area have been put under new pollution restrictions. Despite the problems and the massive crowds, many pilgrims who make the trek say this will be the spiritual journey of their lifetime. I’m Kim Lawton reporting.