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AP PHOTOS: A look at India's Kumbh Mela festival

Friday - 3/1/2013, 3:38pm  ET

In this Feb. 6, 2013 file photo, a Naga Sadhu, center, watches as other Hindu holy men of the Juna Akhara sect participate in a ritual that is believed to rid them of all ties in this life and dedicate themselves to serving God as a Naga or naked holy men, at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna River during the Maha Kumbh festival in Allahabad, India. The significance of nakedness is that they will not have any worldly ties to material belongings, even something as simple as clothes. This ritual that transforms selected holy men to Naga can only be done at the Kumbh festival. (AP Photo/ Rajesh Kumar Singh, File)

The Associated Press

ALLAHABAD, India (AP) -- 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.

Here's a gallery of their images from the festival.

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