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The festival site is the river banks of the ancient Indian city of Allahabad in northern India.
According to government estimates, the population of the city rose to 40 million on Sunday morning.
The Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated once every 12 years.
The bathing takes place at an area called the Sangam (Union), the junction between the river Ganges, Yamuna and a third mythical river, the Saraswati.
Devotees and ascetics poured in since the early hours of the morning to descend into the Ganges on the occasion of the ‘Mouni Amavasya’ – believed to be the day when the universe was created.
Ash-smeared saints, some of them naked, led the congregation in the ritual bathing before dawn – which is said to cleanse pilgrims of their earthly sins.
The “Mother Ganges” is worshipped as a god and is seen as the giver and taker of life.
According to Ashok Sharma, a government spokesperson, “Aerial surveys by choppers, flying cameras and our estimates put the figure at around 20 million people taking a holy dip in the rivers.”
Sharma told AFP, “Public address systems are asking people to leave the [steps] after bathing to avoid a crush.”
More than 7,000 policemen have been deployed to oversee the Sunday bathing ritual, along with 30,000 volunteers, police say.
The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says that Lord 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.