ALLAHABAD, India: Once every 12 years, tens of millions of Indians gather for one of Hinduism’s holiest celebrations at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythic Saraswati rivers. The Maha Kumbh Mela, thought to be the largest religious gathering in the world, celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a battle for nectar that would grant them immortality. As one of the gods fled with a pitcher of the nectar, a drop spilled here, in the town of Allahabad.
Participants at the Kumbh believe a bath in the river on one of the festival’s auspicious bathing days can rid them of their sins. Associated Press photographers fanned out across the 55-day festival in the temporary city on the banks of the river.
The river was often a mass of bodies — men and their sons stripped down to their underwear, veiled women wading in the water, ash smeared ascetics wearing marigold garlands and nothing else.