Every 12 years in northern India, the town of Allahabad hosts the world's largest religious gathering: the "Maha Kumbh Mela". Between January 14th and March 10th 2013, almost 100 million pilgrims headed for the banks of the Ganges to purify their souls.
This is a major event for Hindus but also for all of India's holy men: the sadhus, naga sadhus, ascetics and hermits, who, in addition to the ritual baths taken at very precise times and dates also perform rites of penitence, bless the faithfull and run debates in the ashrams.
Bathing in the Ganges here in Allahabad on specific days decided by astrologers is believed to be an act of supreme celestial power. Believers are purified and purged of all of their sins and those of their ancestors for several generations enabling them to break free from the cycle of reincarnation and to unite with the divine through Ganga, the goddess of the Ganges.
Bathing in its waters also contributes to a person's spiritual awakening.
This mocation is unique of its kind in India and highly symbolic in the Hindu religion. Its is here that three of Indian's holy rivers meet: the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Imperceptible and more spiritual, this third river is mentioned in the ancient holy book and is said to meet the two others under the earth's surface.
According to legend, gods and demons fought for possession of the nectar of immortality for 12 days during the Vedic period (between 1700 and 650 BC).
During this celestial battle, four drops of the precious nectar fell on four holy sites.
Since then, these four locations sacred to Hinduism (the towns of Nasik, Haridwar, Ujjain and Allahabad/Prayag), have successively welcomed the pilgrimage every three years to form a twelve-year cycle.
The Kumbh Mela is an incredible adventure, an exciting and moving journey rich in meetings and contact with others, a journey between the holy men of India and followers of Hinduism from all castes. This living India of a thousand different faces and colours can be truly appreciated here in all its vibrancy. The bath of immortality offers the promise of eternal life but also a ray of hope for society's most disadvantaged people.