Allahabad: Hindu pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, have renounced their tiers with the materialistic world, and initiated themselves into leading ascetic lives.
Clad only in loincloth, many of them assembled on the banks of the Ganges River, where saffron-clad hermits blessed them as they entered this new phase.
The day-long initiation featured several rituals that marked the transition from daily life to a carefree and spiritual existence.
"The life of an ascetic is such that the body may be left behind anywhere at any time. For a hermit, it does not matter if someone gives him a funeral or not. At the time of renouncing worldly pleasures, the first step is tonsuring the head, after which there is a ritual bath in the Ganges. Then there is the `pind daan` (offerings made to ancestors). At night, there is a ‘havan’ ritual done in accordance with Vedic tradition. Then a guru comes and imparts his teaching. The disciples visit their gurus in the morning, after which their initiation is complete," said Swami Narayan Giri, a hermit of the Juna Akhara.
"The `shraadh` ritual symbolises the leaving behind of worldly ties, be it a person, a family or a community. They are sacrificing these ties and dedicating themselves to the service of every one," said Swami Avdheshanand, another ascetic of the Juna Akhara.
Once every 12 years, tens of millions of pilgrims from India and abroad stream into Allahabad for the Maha Kumbh Mela at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with a third, mythical river – the Saraswati.
The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says God Vishnu wrested from demons a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality.
In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell on earth, in the cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. Every three years a Kumbh Mela is held at one of these spots, with the festival at Allahabad the holiest of them all.
The over 2,000-year- old festival is a meeting point for Hindu sadhus or hermits, some of whom live in forests or in Himalayan caves, and who belong to dozens of inter-related congregations.