The raging COVID-19 pandemic has not deterred Hindu pilgrims from converging on the banks of the Ganges river in northern India, for the Kumbh Mela religious festival, which starts today and will go on for four months.

"The pandemic is a bit of a worry, but we are taking all precautions.

"I am sure Maa Ganga (Mother Ganges) will take care of their safety," Al-Jazeera quoted organiser Siddhart Chakrapani as saying. He expects between 800,000 and a million people to attend the festival in Haridwar in Uttarakhand state, today alone.

The religious festival, which is the largest religious gathering in the world, and recognised as a cultural heritage by Unesco, regularly attracts millions of people. Its last edition held in Uttar Pradesh in 2019, attracted about 55 million people in 48 days.

According to Hindu mythology, Gods and demons fought a war over a sacred war containing "amrit" (the nectar of immortality). Drops of the fluid are believed to have fallen at four different locations, which now alternately play host for the immense religious gathering.

Taking a dip in the Ganges is considered a sacred rite by Hindus.

"Sadhus" (holy men) with dreadlocks and constantly puffing on cannabis are a regular feature at the Kumbh Mela.

Madurai in South India is also set to host another carnival this week - the Jallikattu (bull chasing carnival), where revellers grab hold of the animals' horns as they run through crowds of people.

Indian experts are worried that such festivals could trigger a new wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

To date, India has over 10.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 151,000 deaths from the disease. It is only second to the US, which has 23.6 million cases and over 393,000 deaths, respectively.

Source: Al-Jazeera, The Straits Times
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