Millions of Hindus including ash-smeared, naked sadhus have descended on northern India’s Prayagraj city to take ritual baths.
The Kumbh Mela festival is held every 12 years in this city, but every six years an Ardh Kumbh (half Kumbh) is observed, such as the one this year. The 48-day festival began on Jan. 15.
The festival’s name derives from the astrological sign of Kumbh (Aquarius). According to legend, gods and demons fought for the Kumbh (pot) carrying the elixir of immortality. During the fight, the pot dropped in four places — Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain. The festival is held in these four places on rotation. The main one is in Prayagraj at the confluence of the holy Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers.
Hindus believe that bathing in these waters during the auspicious period can wash off their sins.
Photos and words by Umar Manzoor Shah.