Lakhs of Hindus join holy bathing at Kumbh Mela
Despite monsoon floods that have submerged temples, hundreds of thousands of Hindus on Wednesday thronged to the temple city of Nasik for the beginning of the Kumbh Mela.
The mela kicked off in the Trimbakeshwar at 11:51 am when the Sun and Jupiter entered the constellation of Leo.
The festival will see millions of devotees plunge into the river Godavari over the next month, with holy dips scheduled for August 17 and 27 and September 1 in Nasikand August 12 and 27 and September 7 in Trimbakeshwar.
The town of Nashik, north of Mumbai, was on Wednesday steadily filling up with devotees from across the country, to participate in the holiest fair of the Hindus and marked once every three years in rotation at four different places in the country.
"The key day is August 27. Mythology says the planetary conditions on this day were exactly the same when the nectar from the pot of Jayant (the son of Indra) fell in this holy tank."
According to the myth, four drops of nectar from Jayant's pot fell in four different places in India while he was fighting demons.
The fair is a celebration of the event and is conducted alternatively in Hardwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Nasikand Trimbakeshwar (one region) and Ujjain.
"We expect at least three million Hindus to take the dip on August 27," Kumar told AFP.
Around five million Hindus from across India and abroad are expected to visit Nasik on the auspicious days.
Heavy rains have fallen in the last three days amid inappropriate arrangements of shelter and food.
"I have been sitting near this holy tank for the last three days virtually without food," said Manoj Gaikward, from a Rural District of Maharashtra state.
"The powerful priests are getting everything, but poor priests like me have to depend on good people who come and give some food. As far as shelter is concerned I and many like me are holed up in temples."
The state government has come in for a lot of flak for poor facilities.
"It is not that the fair is organised by the government. The government is secular and we do not celebrate the fair," said Vijay Pathak, deputy collector at Nasik.
"But we are providing facilities that could make the fair a smooth affair. Nearly 200 acres of land has been ... given to various religious schools who will host their followers."
He said the heavy rains had affected the work of setting up infrastructure.
"It is difficult to construct temporary shelters for a giant occasion like this during the monsoon. Let us understand that it is only in Nasikand Trimbakeshwar that the fair is organised during the rains," Pathak said.
He said the town of Trimbakeshwar had received heavy rains in the last three days.
Hindu devotees are meanwhile all set to kick off the fair despite the hurdles.
"We have come from our villages. We are farmers and here to see what the fair is all about. Who knows whether we will be here when the next fair comes after 12 years," said Shyam Avasari, a farmer.