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  1. ITV Report

Millions gather for world's largest religious festival

A naked Hindu holy man arrives on a horse back for ritualistic dip on auspicious Makar Sankranti day. Credit: AP

Horses, elephants and crowds of more than 100 million people have descended on the world's largest religious festival in India, marking the beginning of Kumbh Mela.

The huge 49-day holy festival takes place in the northern city of Prayagraj at the joining of the two rivers considered sacred to Hindus: the Ganges and the Yamuna, in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Pilgrims bathe in the river believing it can absolve them of their sins and ends their process of reincarnation.

Millions of pilgrims bathe in the Ganges and the Yamuna during the holy festival. Credit: AP

Tens of millions throng to the sites for a holy dip, many with little money, few provisions and nowhere to sleep.

The first of a series of royal baths took place before dawn on Tuesday, led by a procession of sadhus on tractor chariots and on foot, singing, drumming and blowing horns.

The first to bathe were the naked, naga sadhus in crowns of marigolds and covered with ash.

Huge car parks with free tents have been set up around the city so more people can attend the religious festival. Credit: AP

Huge crowds followed them into the river, including Mili Mishra, a teacher from Prayagraj who was with her husband and two sons.

"We are not earning a livelihood. We think that if we bathe here, God can change our life," she said.

Hindu Holy men participating in the Sangam. Credit: AP

The Indian government has said it expects millions of people from across the country and abroad to visit the area, easily making it the largest gathering of people for a religious event anywhere in the world.

Hindu devotees dry their clothes after taking spiritual-cleansing dips in the Sangam. Credit: AP

The Kumbh rotates among four pilgrimage sites every three years on a date defined by astrology.

This year’s festival is of the type which occurs every six years.

A Hindu holy man takes a dip on auspicious Makar Sankranti day during the Kumbh Mela. Credit: AP

The BJP-led governments are spending around £507 million on the religious festival.

Across the city, roads have been widened and new flyovers have been built.

In the mela ground, 300 km of roads have been laid and huge car parks with free tents have been set up all around the city to accommodate more than half a million vehicles.

Hindu holy men arrive for a ritualistic dip on auspicious Makar Sankranti day during the Kumbh Mela. Credit: AP

Narendra Giri, the head sadhu at the Kumbh, said the government’s arrangements and facilities for the religious festival would "obviously affect the election."

He added that while previous governments had also adhered to the "guest is a god policy," the BJP’s performance this year had outdone them all.

Hindu devotees march in a procession to participate in spiritual cleansing baths in the Sangam. Credit: AP
A Hindu holy man dances holding a mace as he arrives for a ritualistic dip on auspicious Makar Sankranti day. Credit: AP
Hindu pilgrims perform martial arts during the auspicious day Makar Sankranti. Credit: AP