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Held only once every twelve years, the cleansing ritual of the Maha Kumbh Mela sees up to a hundred million Hindu devotees symbolically bathe away their sins in the holy Ganges River. It is thought to be the largest gathering of humanity on earth. For 55 days devotees wade into the river to bathe, and join other religious observations on the banks of the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Various sadhu and sadhvi (holy men and women) abound. The Maha Kumbh Mela began this year on January 14, with preparations starting weeks earlier. [Editors' note: The Big Picture will not publish on Monday, January 21, as we observe the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. We will return on January 23 with regular posts.] -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)

Hindu devotees bathe in the waters of the holy Ganges river during the auspicious bathing day of Makar Sankranti of the Maha Kumbh Mela on January 14, 2013 in Allahabad, India. The Maha Kumbh Mela, believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth, is held every 12 years on the banks of Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. The Kumbh Mela alternates between the cities of Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years. The Maha Kumbh Mela celebrated at the holy site of Sangam in Allahabad, is the largest and holiest. Celebrated over 55 days, it is expected to attract over 100 million people. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)