An estimated 85 million pilgrims attend the Kumbh Mela, India’s and the world’s largest religious gathering which takes place every twelve years in Allahabad. During two months, they travel to the confluence (sangam in Hindi) of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers, to take a ritual bath which is said to wash them of their past sins.
A huge camping site accommodates these pilgrims around the sangam, which looks like a giant fair. It becomes a circus, when naked sanyassis (ascetics), hang heavy bricks to their penis for a fee, or have another sanyassi stand over a stick around which their penis is rolled up. Other sanyassis have their arm raised or stand on one foot for years, presumably to demonstrate the superiority of mind over body.
On the most auspicious day, February 10, an estimated 35 million pilgrims take the ritual bath. First to go into the - polluted - waters are the sanyassis who rejoice with dancing after their bath.