Millions of Hindu devotees gather to ‘purify souls’ in Magh Mela festival

Hindu devotees gathering after arriving at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, for a holy dip during Magh Mela festival in Allahabad. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Millions of Hindu devotees gather to ‘purify souls’ in Magh Mela festival

ALLAHABAD, India: Millions of Hindu devotees are gathering in northern India for the Magh Mela — one of the world’s biggest religious festivals involving ritual bathing in the holy waters of the Ganges river.
An estimated 10 million Hindus descend on the city of Allahabad every January for the festival staged at the sacred meeting point of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers.
The 45-day Mela is currently underway, with pilgrims camping across Allahabad and joining the colorful throngs for dips in the venerated waters.
Among them is Shiv Yogi Moni Swami, a holy man smeared in sandalwood paste, carrying a trident and clad in nothing more than beads and a leopard-print wrap around his waist.
Swami demonstrates his devotion not by walking to the confluence of the rivers known as the Sangam but by rolling the roughly one-kilometer distance from his tent to the waters.
It is not an easy task, with his body collecting dust and grime before he arrives at the confluence where he submerges himself fully.
The act “purifies the soul and washes away all sins,” he said, after scattering rose petals to the rising sun and performing his ablutions.
“As we bathe on this holy day in the Ganges we are praying not only for peace of our soul but for the welfare of the whole world,” Swami added.
Fellow pilgrims, impressed by his piety and fortitude, bow to touch his feet and take blessings.
Some even lie prostrate before him as he passes in a sign of reverence.
Many Indians believe that holy men like Swami possess mystical powers and are capable of curing all manner of illnesses.
For the duration of the Mela, Swami says he eats just one simple meal of fruit a day, apparently enough to sustain him through a busy schedule of chanting prayers and performing yagna, a centuries-old Hindu fire ritual.
“I believe that if you all bow before the Ganges you will be blessed with eternal peace and happiness,” he said, explaining his devotion to the holiest river in Hinduism.
“She (Ganges) is just like a mother. Just like a mother is kind to all, be it a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or a Jain, the Ganges is all encompassing.”
The annual ritual has been held in Allahabad for centuries and is a smaller version of the Kumbh Mela, a gigantic event attended by tens of millions that UNESCO describes as the largest peaceful gathering of pilgrims on earth.


Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

Updated 19 August 2018
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Like a Berber: Madonna celebrates 60th birthday in Marrakech

  • The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday
  • On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj

JEDDAH: Madonna’s 60th birthday celebrations are creating quite a buzz, especially delighting her Arab fans that she chose to mark the milestone in Morocco.
The Queen of Pop donned the attire of a “Berber Queen” in Marrakech on her birthday, wearing a fuchsia chiffon long-sleeved gown by Gucci with Berber jewelry and a headpiece by Marianna Harutunian.
On Sunday, the American star posted pictures and videos on her Instagram of a fun photo shoot with British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, known as the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech.” Madonna, who posed for pictures with her family, is seen dressed in a traditional red attire, accessorized with colorful jewelry and a Louis Vuitton headscarf.
“Life can be sweet and sour and sometimes a surprise can happen that you never would think of and this was one of (those) moments; want to thank Madonna and her lovely family and being patient for the shoot at my riad,” Hajjaj wrote on Instagram.
Hashtagged #birthday #magic #Marakesh, Madonna’s pictures have gone viral on social media since she first posted a portrait of herself bedecked in Berber jewelry and brandishing a sign that reads “The Queen.” She wrote: “Finally and at last it’s my birthday! I have survived! Life is beautiful!”
On the eve of the big day, she toured the former imperial city of Morocco under the close watch of the paparazzi and wrote: “Walking through the Labyrinth of the Medina during the Call to Prayer.” She posted a video shot at night, wandering in the alleys of the city’s ancient market.
“Mystical walk through the desert,” she captioned a photo featuring her in the desert, with six horsemen holding candles in the background.
Another portrait shows Madonna wearing a fez decorated with Berber jewelry, along with a caption reading: “Today I am wearing CAKE on my head!“
Known for repeatedly reinventing herself during her 35-year pop career, Madonna has been staying at the luxury palace-turned-hotel El Fenn, owned by the sister of British billionaire Richard Branson, Vanessa. The property has been redecorated and staff have had their smart phones confiscated to protect the privacy of Madonna and her guests. The birthday guest list has also been kept secret, and Moroccan police were keeping journalists and photographers at bay.
Guests reportedly dressed in traditional Bedouin garb for the Arabian-themed party featuring Berber music. According to the Mirror, Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee designed kaftans and Berber costumes for them.
Agence France-Presse reported a local photographer as saying that he had spotted Madonna wearing a veil covering the hair and face but for the eyes. She reportedly visited the five-star Kasbah Agafay spa, went shopping at a souk and enjoyed a camel trek in the desert.
Local media reported that she and around 15 friends had dined out at a restaurant in western Morocco, escorted by bodyguards and under police surveillance.
Taking to social media under the hashtag #MadonnaAt60, fans from across the world sent birthday wishes to the pop diva. Since her first, eponymous album came out in 1983, Madonna has sold more than 300 million records, with albums such as “True Blue,” “Like a Prayer” and “Ray of Light” topping music charts around the world.