Photos: A holy river in India borrowed water so more than 55 million Hindus could wash their sins

Over 55 million Hindus have so far taken a dip in the holy river Shipraas part of the ongoing Simhastha Kumbh Mela—a Hindu mass pilgrimage celebrated every 12 years in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Hindus believe that taking a dip in the holy waters during the Kumbh Mela washes away sins. But that may not have happened this year, as the water in Shipra is not its own.
Two years of drought have shrunk river Shipra and during this part of the year it is typically reduced to small puddles, The Economist reported last week. To preserve the pilgrimage, the state government has diverted water from the river Narmada into Shipra. “Giant pumps are sucking some 5,000 litres a second from a canal fed by the Narmada, lifting it by 350 metres and carrying it nearly 50 kilometres to pour into the Shipra’s headwaters,” The Economist said. All this while several parts of India are facing severe water scarcity.

But borrowed water has not dampened the spirits of pilgrims. This year, around 70 million pilgrims are expected to participate in the festival, which started on Apr. 22 and will conclude on May 21. Here are some scenes from the Simhastha Kumbh Mela—counted among the largest religious gatherings on the planet:

Pilgrims gather around river Shipra at the beginning of Kumbh Mela on April 21. The river’s natural state during this time of the year typically is “dismal sequence of puddles dirtied by industrial and human waste,” according to The Economist.(EPA/Sanjeev Gupta)
“Naga Sadhus” (naked holy men) bathe in the Shipra River during the holy “shahi snan” (royal bath) during the Simhastha Kumbh Mela in Ujjain. It is believed that the Kumbh Mela is a chance for Hindu devotees to wash away their sins with a bath in the holy waters of the holy river.(EPA/Sanjeev Gupta)


A Hindu holy man displays his hair after taking a dip in the waters of the river Shipra during the Simhastha Kumbh Mela.(Reuters/Jitendra Prakash)
A holy man applies ashes on his body after taking a dip in the waters of Shipra river during the second “Shahi Snan” (grand bath) at the Simhastha Kumbh Mela.(Reuters/Jitendra Prakash)
Holy men offer prayers while sitting inside circles of burning “Upale” (or dried cow dung cakes) during a prayer ceremony at the Simhastha Kumbh Mela.(Reuters/Jitendra Prakash)
Women take a dip in the holy river Shipra in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.(EPA/Sanjeev Gupta)
Naga Sadhus arrive to conduct rituals at the banks of the Shipra river with their skin covered with holy ashes.(EPA/Sanjeev Gupta)