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Maha Kumbh Mela festival, 'greatest show on earth,' draws millions of Hindu pilgrims (PHOTOS)
Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Millions of Hindus are gearing up to celebrate the Kumbh Mela festival, called "the greatest show on earth."

The Kumbh Mela takes place for 55 days every 12 years, and is believed to be the biggest human gathering in the world, BBC News reported

In 2001, the last Mela, more than 40 million people gathered during the festival's main bathing day. 

GlobalPost's senior correspondent in India, Jason Overdorf, describes some social context to the major spectacle photographed below.

"In many ways the Maha Kumbh Mela represents all that is good and all that is bad in India: faith and madness, selfless generosity, incompetent leadership and a public with an unending ability to muddle along," Overdorf said.

"Nothing has branded India part of the 'exotic Orient' with more strength than the spectacle of a million-odd, dreadlocked, naked saints sprinting toward the Ganges — three-pronged spears of Shiva in hand — for the ritual bath. But somehow the West has always accepted, even found inspiration, in this mad dash for a holy river chock full of human waste," he added.

Devotees have been converging on the northern Indian city of Allahabad, one of four that according to Hindu myth got showered with nectar during a fight between the demons and the gods.

Hindus believe that bathing at the meeting point of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers will cleanse them of sins and bring them closer to salvation.  

To prepare this year, the event's organizers have set up 35,000 toilets, 14 pop-up hospitals, 22,000 street lights, 93 miles of temporary roads, 18 bridges, and new sewage facilities, according to Agence France Presse

“All arrangements have been made to ensure that on this auspicious occasion the bathing can take place in a smooth and acceptable fashion,” chief organizer Mani Prasad Mishra said Sunday.

Follow Jason Overdorf @joverdorf, who contributed from New Delhi.

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A Sadhu or holy man walks with his earthly posessions on the vast grounds which will receive the millions of Hindu devotees that will congregate here for the next couple of months to celebrate the Kumbh Mela, in Allahabad on January 13, 2013.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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A Devotee bends over the waters edge at the Sangham or confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges river in the early morning at the Kumbh Mela celebration.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Women devotees hold wet saris to the wind in an effort to dry them after taking a dip at the Sangham, or confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges rivers.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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A boy reacts to other devotees from his family pour water over his head.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Devotees carry offerings into the Sangham or confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges river at the Kumbh Mela celebration in Allahabad on January 13, 2013.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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A man and a woman hold hands as they help each other wade into the waters of the Sangham.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Devotees light a candle on an offering at the waters edge.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Devotees crowd the edge of the Sangham or confluence of the Yamuna and Ganges river at day break at the Kumbh Mela celebration in Allahabad on January 13, 2013. Worshippers, believe a dip in the holy waters cleanses them of their sins.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Hindu devotees carry their posessions as they walk towards the banks of the holy Ganges river as people gather ahead of the Maha Kumbh Mela on January 13, 2013 in Allahabad, India.

(Daniel Berehulak - AFP/Getty Images)
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Sadhus, or holy men, walk past a sand decoration after performing a ritual prayer at the water's edge at the Sangham.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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A Devotee, one of thousands, offers a prayer to the sun god as he pours water from a vase while taking a dip at the Sangham.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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A Hindu devotee holds out a saree to dry after having bathed on the banks of the Ganges river ahead of the Maha Kumbh Mela on January 13, 2013 in Allahabad, India.

(Daniel Berehulak - AFP/Getty Images)
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Devotees dance in celebration after having taken a dip at the Sangham.

(Roberto Schmidt - AFP/Getty Images)
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Hindu devotees look up at the gate of the Shri Panchayati Akhara Bara Udasin as they gather ahead of the Maha Kumbh Mela on January 12, 2013 in Allahabad, India.

(Daniel Berehulak - AFP/Getty Images)
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Indian boatmen wait for passengers ahead of the Kumbh Mela at Sangam in Allahabad on January 12, 2013. The Kumbh Mela, which is scheduled to take place in the northern Indian city in January and February 2013, is the world's largest gathering of people for a religious purpose and millions of people gather for this auspicious occasion.

(Sanjay Kanojia - AFP/Getty Images)
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