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Hindus dive into Ganges for Kumbh Mela

Tens of millions of Hindus have gathered for the holiest day of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious festival in the world. On Sunday, a record 30 million devotees bathed in the Ganges River to wash away their sins.

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Led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared naked ascetics, a record 30 million devout Hindus plunged into the Ganges River Sunday, on what is the holiest day of the Kumbh Mela.

The Ganges River is worshipped as a god and considered the giver and taker of life. Hindus believe that bathing at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers washes away their sins and breaks the cycle of rebirth. Some also believe that three billion Hindu deities will be bathing in the river to bless mankind.

Despite the festival's peaceful intentions, at least 20 people were killed in a stampede Sunday as devotees returned from the river. Pawan Bansal, India's Railway Minister, told reporters that the stampede took place as massive crowds flooded the Allahabad train station on Sunday evening.

More than 7,000 police officers were deployed to oversee the bathing ritual, along with another 30,000 volunteers.

Kumbh Mela has its roots in Hindu mythology, which says that drops of the nectar of immortality fell on the four cities that host the festival: Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. The pilgrimage rotates between those four cities every third year.

Kumbh Mela begins in January and lasts until March. Management of the pilgrimage requires a budget of some 16 trillion rupees ($290 million, 217 million euros).

slk/ch (AFP, dpa)