The Dalai Lama then reached down to the river and sprinkled some of the water on his head in a mark of respect to the sacred river. Allahabad, 600 kilometers (380 miles) east of New Delhi, is the site of the confluence of the dark blue waters of the Yamuna River, the gray sandy currents of the Ganges and the mythical Saraswati River.

"This confluence has become a very important venue for Hindu and Buddhist religious congregations. Now this function should come up as an important venue for a change of character and thought of people to make them work for peace," the Dalai Lama said in a speech.

The Dalai Lama planned to stay through Friday, to meet and bless Buddhists and give a public speech on world peace at the festival grounds.

Worshippers who were pressed against each other on pontoon bridges, waiting hours for their turn to bathe in the river, watched and waved as his convoy of white cars drove through the center of the festival site.

The grounds were crowded with devotees of different religions, naked Hindu holy men, nuns with shaved heads, palm readers, anti-abortion activists and performers.

A snake charmer wrapped a baby python around his 3-year-old son and collected money from onlookers. Another man had less luck dancing with an earthen pot on his head. However, by far the largest number of people were ordinary Indian Hindus from all walks of life.

Organizers say visits by celebrities often cause logistical problems at the festival, where each road, bridge, culvert and clearing is crammed with frenzied devotees, even at night.

Sonia Gandhi, head of India's leading opposition party, dipped her feet in the water on Monday. Police blocked thousands of boats and pilgrims from entering the river until she was gone.

"On peak days we are advising celebrities not to come. It is a problem," Jeevesh Nandan, the chief administrator of the festival, told The Associated Press.

Organizers said more than 70 million people will have visited by the time the festival ends Feb. 21.