At the world’s largest pilgrimage in Prayagraj in northern India, tens of millions of Hindu faithful travel to the sacred sangam — the confluence of three holy rivers — to take a dip.
The Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, is a series of baths by Hindu sadhus and sadhvis, holy men and women, and other pilgrims who believe the ritual cleanses them of their sins and ends the process of repeated reincarnation.
For some, stripping down for a holy dip also signifies the stripping away of the material world.
At every Kumbh, including this year’s, thousands of devotees are initiated into the reclusive sect of the Naga Sadhus — naked, ash-smeared cannabis-smoking Hindu warriors and onetime-armed defenders of the faith who for centuries have lived as ascetics in jungles and caves.
On so-called royal bathing days, the Naga Sadhus lead the 13 monastic orders’ processions — on garlanded horses, elephants and tractors — through the festival grounds and into the river, armed with tridents and swords.