The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years in Allahabad covering an area larger than Athens, spread over a wide sandy river bank at the point where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet the Saraswati, a mythical river.
The festival grows in size every time it is held and is considered the world''s largest temporary gathering of people. Officials said some 30 million visited the site last Sunday, the day considered the most auspicious day to bathe in the river.
But a stampede at the railway station in Allahabad that killed 36 Hindu pilgrims on Sunday, the busiest day of the Kumbh Mela at which some 30 million had gathered to wash away their sins in the sacred Ganges river.
Thousands of police and volunteers are being used for crowd control during the Kumbh Mela, manning the river bank when the pilgrims and naked, dreadlocked ascetics dash into the water to bath. The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot from demons containing the nectar of immortality.
In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to 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.