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TOPSHOT - This aerial handout photo taken on February 4, 2019 and released by the Uttar Pradesh Information and Public Relations Department shows Indian Hindu devotees taking a holy dip at Sangam -- the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers -- during the auspicious bathing day of 'Mauni Amavasya' at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. - State authorities in Uttar Pradesh are expecting 12 million visitors to descend on Allahabad for the centuries-old festival, which officially begins on January 15 and continues until early March. (Photo by Handout / Uttar Pradesh PR Dept. / AFP) / -----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / UTTAR PRADESH INFORMATION AND PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

ALLAHABAD, India: Some 55 million Hindu devotees plunged into holy waters to cleanse their sins and seek salvation over the busiest days of the world’s largest religious gathering, officials said Tuesday.

The gigantic crowds thronged the confluence of three rivers, one of them mythical, in northern India over Sunday and Monday.

The Mauni Amavasya – or new moon day – on Monday, is the most auspicious day of the 48-day Kumbh Mela festival.

Numbers were bigger than expected and now over 120 million people have visited the Kumbh since it began in mid-January, more than were expected for the entire festival running until March 4.

“We are not throwing random figures about the number of visitors to the Kumbh. Our calculations are based on observation from drone cameras and helicopters,” Rajeev Rai, a senior official, told AFP.

Hindus believe bathing at the meeting point of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati at the festival – home to a vast tent city bigger than Manhattan – brings salvation.

According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher, or Kumbh, containing the nectar of immortality. A few drops fell to earth at four different locations – one being Allahabad.

The historic city was recently renamed Prayagraj by the local state’s Hindu nationalist government but is still widely known as Allahabad, the name it was given by Muslim rulers hundreds of years ago.

The festival has one more major bathing day on February 10. — AFP

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