Hinduism is a vast religion, and some practitioners do not share even common beliefs with each other. However, for the majority of Hindus, the Ganges River is one of the most sacred locations for the faith, and practitioners make pilgrimages to the river throughout the year. The Ganges also hosts the largest religious festival in the world, which attracts millions of ritualistic bathers.
Hindus engage in various forms of worship called puja. Some pujas take place daily in a worshiper's own home or local temple, and Hindus reserve others for special holy days and celebrations. In the temple, worshipers participate in a ritual bathing using a kalash, a pot decorated with a coconut on the top, and garnished with flowers. The kalash includes holy water, which they believe accrued the sacred energies from the worship service. People sprinkle the water on the worshipers heads after puja. The last type or worship is called kamya, which involves special pilgrimages to holy sites. Many take holy pilgrimages to bathe in the Ganges River for kamya.
The Ganges is the most sacred site for the majority of Hindus, and is a primary destination for kamya. Hindus believe the goddess Ganga lived in the river. Some Hindus believe that during a battle between demons and gods, the kumbh, or pot that contained sacred nectar, spilled four drops of water onto Earth, blessing four cities. The Ganges River flows through these locations. Hindus who bathe in the river or drink from the waters believe they garner good luck. They also believe the river can wash sins away for those who bathe in it. If Hindus spread the ashes of a deceased person on the river, they believe it improves that person's karma, allowing them to achieve salvation faster.
Kumbh Mela Practice
The largest bathing ritual for Hinduism, and indeed the largest religious ritual in the entire world is called the Kumbh Mela, named after the mythological pot. Hindus gather once every 12 years to bathe in the Ganges and partake in rituals afterwards. The festival takes place in Allahbad, at the location where the Ganges, Saraswati and Yamuna rivers meet. Holy practitioners called sadhus typically cover themselves with ash and then bathe in the river nude. The festival lasts 55 days, and in 2013, over 100 million people gathered to bathe throughout the period.
Kumbh Mela Beliefs
Hindus believe that the Kumbh Mela occurs during the luckiest time, when the stars, planets and moon align. They believe that bathing in the river will wash away their sins, and that participating in the worship afterwards will secure the blessings. The Ganges is sacred because they believe it originated from the nectar of the gods, which provides immortality. While Hindus do not believe that participating in Kumbh Mela will allow them to live forever in this life, they believe it serves as a reminder of immortality, and of their belief in rebirth after death. The process makes everyone equal, since many different people of different castes participate in the bathing.
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