Throngs of Muslim pilgrims converged on Monday on Muzdalifah to prepare for Eid al-Adha feast after a day of prayer on Mount Arafat for an end to disputes and bloodshed.
The faithful will spend the night in Muzdalifah to collect stones which they will use a symbolic ritual of stoning the devil in nearby Mina on Tuesday, the first day of the feast of sacrifice.
Most of the pilgrims taking part in the annual hajj to Islam's holiest sites in Saudi Arabia travelled from Arafat to Muzdalifah on foot, while others took buses and trains, some riding on the roofs.
Thousands of security men were deployed to organise the traffic flowing into Muzdalifah, which only comes to life during the five days of the hajj.
Palestinian Muslim worshippers sit on a wall in front of the golden dome inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. AFP
Earlier in the day men, women and children from across the Muslim world flooded the roads to Arafat chanting "Labaik Allahum Labaik" (I am responding to your call, God), as they observed the peak of the hajj.
Helicopters hovered overhead and thousands of Saudi troops stood guard.
Many pilgrims camped in small colourful tents or took shelter under trees to escape temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Special sprinklers were set up to ward off the heat.
In his annual sermon, top Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh urged Muslims to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism, without explicitly speaking of the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring.
Afghan men prepare to slaughter a buffalo during the annual festival of Eid al-Adha. Reuters
"Your nation is a trust with you. You must safeguard its security, stability and resources," he said.
"You should know that you are targeted by your enemy... who wants to spread chaos among you... It's time to confront this."
The cleric did not speak specifically of the deadly war wracking Syria, where Sunni-led rebels backed by Saudi Arabia are at war with a regime led by Alawites -- an offshoot of Shiite Islam -- and closely allied with Shiite Iran and Hezbollah.
The cleric insisted that Islam prohibits killing and aggression and said there is "no salvation or happiness for the Muslim nation without adhering to the teachings of the religion."
Attendance is sharply down from last year, due to fears of the MERS virus which has killed 60 people worldwide, including 51 in Saudi Arabia, and to expansion work at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca province who heads the central hajj committee, said 1.38 million pilgrims had come from outside the kingdom while 117,000 permits were issued for locals.
This puts the total number of pilgrims at almost 1.5 million, less than half of last year's 3.2 million, after Riyadh slashed hajj quotas.
Prince Khaled said authorities had turned back 70,000 nationals and expatriates for not carrying legal permits and had arrested 38,000 others for performing the hajj without a permit.
Authorities have also seized as many as 138,000 vehicles for violating the hajj rules, and owners would be penalised, he said.
Saudi health authorities have stressed that no cases of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus have been detected so far this pilgrimage.
Freshly cut meat from slaughtered cattle is spread out on the floor of Al-Falah mosque in Jakarta. AFP
Prayers for peace in troubled times
Many pilgrims said they were praying for peace in Muslim nations mired in sectarian and political strife.
"I will pray the whole day for God to improve the situation for Muslims worldwide and for an end to disputes and bloodshed in Arab countries," said 61-year-old Algerian pensioner Saeed Dherari.
"I hope that God will grace all Muslims with security and stability," said 75-year-old Ahmad Khader, who hails from the southern Syrian province of Daraa, where the country's uprising began.
"The regime is tyrannical and I pray for God to help the oppressed people," he said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's embattled government.
Egyptian Ahmad Ali, who is performing hajj for the first time, prayed for peace in his country where hundreds have been killed in fighting between security forces and Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
"I pray for Egypt to enjoy security and stability and for the people to reach understanding and reconciliation," Ali said.
The hajj, which officially ends on Friday, is one of the five pillars of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform at least once.The pilgrims started the hajj journey on Sunday, moving out of the holy city of Mecca to nearby Mina, where most of them spent the night following the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed, who performed the rituals 14 centuries ago.
Haj culminates with ritual sacrifice of animals
In Jeddah, over a million Muslims, including more than a lakh Indians, today participated in the symbolic stoning of the devil in Mina Valley of Saudi Arabia and sacrificed animals to mark the culmination of the annual Haj pilgrimage.
The pilgrims converged in Mina Valley to hurl stones at concrete pillars representing the devil. The ritual began early this morning and sizeable numbers of pilgrims, wearing the ihram or two-piece seamless white garment, participated throughout the day.
After the stoning, the pilgrims performed the ritual of animal sacrifice to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, to God.
Back in India
Eid fervour high in Taj city
With pleasant weather, shops in old Agra markets well stocked with clothes, fancy skull caps, colourful handkerchiefs and scarfs, and bazaars full of goats, the Taj city was high on festive fervour on the eve of the Eid.
"The sacrificial goats will be bought Tuesday, though many have already got their prized catch a day earlier. The price has gone up this year by at least a thousand, up from Rs.7,000 to Rs.8,000" for an average sized goat, the Haat in-charge at the Idgah.
Agra's biggest market for goats is on Fatehabad Road, where goats have been sold between Rs.7,000 to Rs.40,000.
President, Vice President greet nation
President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari greeted the nation on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha.
In his message, the president said: "On the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha, I extend my greetings and good wishes to all fellow citizens and, in particular, to my Muslim brothers and sisters."
Stressing the need to emulate Prophet Abraham by following the path of "selfless sacrifice and forgiveness", Mukherjee said "the spirit of sacrifice and service" is the essence of Eid-ul-Azha.
A Russian Muslim prays outside Moscow's central mosque. AFP
Eid shopping at its peak in Kashmir Valley
Eid shopping reached a feverish pitch across the Kashmir Valley Monday, with roads in the summer capital Srinagar choked by a sea of shoppers and motorists.
Men, women and the young hunted for hosiery items, bakery, poultry and mutton to celebrate the holy Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Azha.
After the pavement traders spread their stalls virtually all over Srinagar, roads in the city got choked by afternoon. Traffic policemen had a tough time regulating the flow of vehicles.
Himachal offers Muslim women free bus ride on Eid
Muslim women in Himachl Pradesh will be allowed to travel free within the state on state roadways buses on the Eid-ul-Azha festival, the government said Tuesday.
Free traveling facility on Himachal Road Transportation Corporation (HRTC) buses would be extended to Muslim women on Wednesday, Transport Minister G.S. Bali said in a statement.
Earlier, the government has allowed the women to travel free in HRTC buses on Raksha Bandhan and Karva Chauth.
Delhi gears up to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha Wednesday
With markets decorated, shops aflush with trendy attires and accessories, eateries overflowing with custom, and goats on sale at cramped open spaces -- Delhi's historic old quarters are reliving the festive fervour and shopping frenzy of Eid-ul-Azha.
Shopping for favourite sweets and fresh raw mutton, from toys to the latest in clothes, cosmetics, choodiyan (glass bangles) or chappals, eager Muslims are thronging every outlet that has anything to offer from the traditional to the modern. Tiny kiosks selling trinkets in the bylanes to major markets and arcades on thoroughfares, all are doing brisk business.
For 22-year-old Sana Shakeel, Eid is the time to splurge on clothes, accessories and cosmetics.
"My mother gifted me an anarkali suit and now I am hunting for a pair of matching footwear and accessories," she said.
Somali children play with toy guns during celebrations for Eid al-Adha in Mogadishu. AFP
( with inputs from PTI, IANS, REUTERS, AFP)