(CBS News) PRAYAG, India -- It was just after dawn when the Hindu holy men charged forward into the Ganges, the river they believe is a goddess who can wash away their sins.
They've waited for this moment for 12 years, since the last Prayag Kumbh Mela, Hinduism's biggest, most joyful festival.
In a two-month-long celebration, this day is considered the luckiest to take a dip.
Saryu Das is a holy man who came here to collect a bottle of sacred water.
"This is our heritage," he told us. "The Mother Ganges has given us her blessings since the beginning of time."
Then came the pilgrims, a flood of humanity not driven by war or hunger, but moved by a shared faith.
They've gathered here from all over India, camped out in a giant city of tents, in a carnival atmosphere.
More coverage from CBS News' Holly Williams on the Kumbh Mela festival:
This country is modernizing fast, but Hindus are still rooted in an ancient religion.
Lakshmi Singh Takari comes from a wealthy Indian family but gave up nearly all of her material possessions to study with holy men.
"Look at Amaraji sitting there," she said. "He thinks he's a king. You know, he's got nothing, but he's a king in his thoughts."
On the banks of the Ganges, the crowd's religious fervor became increasingly chaotic. At times it came dangerously close to a stampede as pilgrims rushed forward -- wave after wave -- toward the water.
Later in the day came the news that there was a stampede as pilgrims left the Kumbh Mela and tried to board a train. At least 30 people were crushed to death.
Hindus have been coming together for the Kumbh Mela for more than 2,000 years, but now the crowds are growing bigger -- and this time, that proved deadly.