Originating from the myth that the gods had spilled four drops of the nectar of immortality on earth, the Kumbh Mela is a major draw for Hindus.
They believe that a holy dip in the rivers during the festival would wash away past sins and grant them piety.
But many courted death instead on Wednesday, as this year's congregation degenerated into chaos and confusion.
As pilgrims jostled to find their way through the narrow streets of Nashik to the banks of river Godavari for a holy dip and divine prayers, a horrifying stampede claimed 39 lives and left more than 100 injured.
For many it was a disaster waiting to happen. Too many people crowded in a too small place is a recipe for accidents such as these.
In 1996, 56 people were trampled to death during the festival. Another festival during the 1950s had claimed 500 lives.
But it is unlikely that the disasters would rob the Kumbh Mela of its glitter or glory.
In 1996, 56 people were trampled to death during the festival. Another festival during the 1950s had claimed 500 lives
Held once every three years, Kumbh Mela, known as the Grand Pitcher Festival, is one of the biggest and most pious Hindu religious festivals.
Historians trace its origin to the Vedic ages. Various legends are also part of its long colourful history.
But the most widely held belief is that a fight ensued between the Gods and the demons for a pitcher with the nectar of immortality. During the fight, the gods spilled the nectar at four places.
Nashik is one place where a drop fell. The other three were at Prayag, Hardwar and Ujjain.
The festival is held at those places by rotation and this year it was the turn of Nashik.
And as always, devotees swamped the small town in western India. But this time, it was with catastrophic consequences.