Braving the chill, about 500,000 Hindu devotees on Monday took a ritual bath in a pond in Orissa’s temple town of Konark and offered prayers to the sun god on the occasion of auspicious Magha Saptami.

The devotees, including elderly men and women, took the dip in the confluence of Chandrabhaga river and the Bay of Bengal in the age-old belief that the bath and prayer would cleanse them of diseases and wash away their sins.

“About 500,000 people took a bath. There was tight security,” police officer Prakash Rath said.

According to legend, Lord Krishna’s son Shamba was cured of leprosy after a holy dip at the Chandrabhaga river, which once flowed through the precincts of the Sun Temple of Konark in Puri district, towards the Bay of Bengal.

The place where Shambha is said to have meditated and worshiped the sun god for 12 years after bathing has become a sacred spot and devotees believe it has curative properties.

Today, the river no longer exists. What is left could be described either as a large pond or a very small lake.

The local administration has made elaborate arrangements along the Chandrabhaga coast, located about three km from the World Heritage site of the Sun Temple of Konark where hundreds of policemen were deployed.

Tents and barricades were erected along the coast for the convenience of the devotees. Large numbers of policemen were also deployed to manage traffic.