Nepal’s Hindu community on Tuesday kicked off the celebrations for the Swasthani festival during which devotees bathe in various sacred rivers to wash away their sins and pray for prosperity. The religious festival, also known as the Madhav Narayan, is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Swasthani. Hundreds of thousands of participants gather together on the river-banks in Nepal for the ceremonies. “We are expecting over two million devotees to come for the bath here during the festival period,” Jeevan Shrestha, the vice-chairman of the festival organization committee for the Salinadi river in the Kathmandu valley, told Efe news.

Devotees also visit other river banks including Hanumanghat, located 15 km from the capital, for ceremonies where the women dress in red and the men roll around on the ground before taking a dip in the water. “Taking holy baths in the rivers during the festival period washes away the sins committed by an individual,” said Hindu priest Uttam Baral. The celebrations include various night-long recitals of the story of Swasthani, which is a 31-chapter legend, it narrates the origins of the Earth, the suicide of Swasthani – the first wife of Lord Shiva – and how Parvati became his second wife.

“It is believed that reciting these religious stories pleases Goddess Swasthani who grants wishes to the devotees to overcome their innumerable troubles,” Baral said. The festival – which is unique to Nepal – includes worship of the goddess in various rituals at different locations. Hindus form 8% of Nepal’s 30 million people, while around 9% of the population is Buddhist.