Holy men are preparing to greet millions of Hindu pilgrims who have travelled to bathe in sacred waters at the centuries-old Kumbh Mela festival.
Around 12 million visitors are expected to descend on Allahabad, in northern India, for the world’s largest religious festival, state authorities in Uttar Pradesh said. Festivities officially begin on Tuesday and continue until early March.
The ancient city is nestled along the banks of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers, and the meeting point of the three is considered highly sacred in Hinduism.
A sadhu sits covered in ash inside his tent as he use a mobile phone ahead of Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, north India
Around 12 million visitors are expected to descend on Allahabad for the world’s largest religious festival, which officially begins Tuesday and continues until early March
A Hindu holy man with his head wrapped in a headscarf walks on a road at the site of the Kumbh Mela, or Pitcher Festival
Hindu holy men take part in a religious procession towards the Sangam area as they cross a pontoon bridge during the ‘royal entry’ for the Kumbh Mela
A young boy is dressed after taking a holy dip at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers
Hindus believe bathing there during the Kumbh Mela helps cleanse sins and frees the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Two days before the gigantic bathing ritual begins, naked holy men wandered the banks smeared in ash, offering blessings for devotees.
Other visitors rode elephants and sung religious hymns during processions which took place before the festivities began.
Some devotees were even photographed taking a holy dip on the Triveni Sangam banks ahead of the festival’s official start on Tuesday.
An Indian holy man painted in ash smokes as he sits inside his tent among the Juna Akhara, a sadhu order, community
A man dries his hair after plunging into the Triveni Sangam banks – a process believed to help cleanse sins and free the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth
Another group of women bathe and wash pots in the water ahead of the start of the Kumbh Mela festival in northern India
A pair of Hindu devotees ride on an elephant decorated with paint and yellow cloth during a mass religious procession
A holy man prepares tea outside his tent with a group ahead of the start of the Kumbh Mela festival – which ends in March
‘We help devotees get rid of their pains and troubles through our blessings, sacred ash, yoga, knowledge and wisdom,’ said Prahlad Puri, a holy man with his long knotted hair tied in a bun.
‘We distribute food, we serve the poor.’
According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a war over a sacred pitcher, or kumbh, containing the nectar of immortality.
Another holy man was seen cleaning the entrance of his bright orange and gold tent with a broom in preparation for the event
Devotees holding banners and dressed in bright colours sing a religious hymn during a procession ahead of the festival
Indian devotees from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) take part in a religious procession
The festival attracts millions of Hindu pilgrims to the sacred confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers over 49 days between January 15 and March 4
During the tussle, a few drops fell to earth at four different locations – one being Allahabad.
The historic city was recently renamed Prayagraj by the state’s conservative Hindu government but is still widely known by Allahabad – the name it was given by Muslim rulers hundreds of years ago.
The Mela, which runs from January 15 until March 4, was recognised as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2017.
Worshippers ride camels in the festival area during the ‘royal entry’ for the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on Sunday, January 13
A naked holy man, or Hindu Sadhu, sits and smokes beside a bonfire as he prepares tea outside his tent in northern India
Another holy man dressed in orange cloth carries a monkey on his shoulder as he watches the procession of ‘royal entry’