The Kumbh Mela is one of the world's most magnetic sights. A massive gathering of devotees, pilgrims, holy men (a sadhu) and tourists, the Mela is one of the Hindu faith's largest and most deeply spiritual event and the 2013 edition has just started... in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The festival is held once every 12 years and will run for 60 days before concluding on the night of Maha Shivaratri on 10 March; translated, this means "the night of Shiva" and marks the occasion of Shiva (one of three primary gods in the faith) performing the primordial dance of creation, preservation and destruction.
All in all, more than 100 million people are expected to throng the banks of the Ganges, the river which occupies the holiest of spaces in the Hindu faith. The two-month long festival is also the time for traditional bathing in Ganges water, a ritualistic act that signifies the washing away of past sins and a new birth.
"I wash away all my sins, from this life and before," 77-year-old Swami Shankranand Saraswati was quoted by Reuters. He went on to explain that he gave up a career as a senior civil servant four decades ago, to become a holy man. And since then, his diet, among other aspects of his life, has been simplified to include only fruits and nuts.
The Kumbh Mela is one of the world's largest gatherings of any sort. In fact, in 2001, the Mela saw 40 million people on the main day of the festival. And that, the BBC claimed, was a world record. Regardless of the actual records, your first sight of the Mela can be daunting.
First-time Mela visitors, whether Indian or foreign tend to be overawed.
"I had only seen Kumbh pictures. This far exceeds my expectations," Laxman Sitapathy, a student from the southern Indian city of Bangalore, said.
"This is huge," said Nick Oza, a photo-journalist from Arizona, USA, adding, "I don't know from where to begin and where to end!"
The arrangements, as one would expect, are on impressive scales, with the administrators and organisers claiming to have allocated several thousands of square feet to create temporary housing colonies, bathrooms, kitchens, bathing areas and general quarters. A report by The Times of India indicates that as many as 1 million pilgrims have already gathered in the local residences.
What is the Kumbh Mela
According to Hindu mythology, Vishnu (the second of the primary trinity of gods; the third being Brahma) once fought the demons for a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality. During combat, the pot was jolted and four drops of the nectar fell on Earth, in the cities of Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar - the cities where the Kumbh festival has been held for centuries.
For more details about the festival, visit the event's official Web site.
Check out photographs of the Maha Kumbh Mela 2013
Check out why the 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela is a Harvard University case study