A man waits for devotees inside his camp during Kumbh Mela. (Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

More than 20 million Hindu pilgrims ritually bathed in India’s holy rivers on the opening day of the Kumbh Mela, a gigantic festival billed as the world’s largest human gathering.

Men take part in a religious procession towards the Sangam area (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/ AFP/ Getty Images)

The spectacular seven-week festival began Tuesday in Allahabad, an ancient city that rises alongside the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Hindu devotees bathe during the second “Shahi Snan” (grand bath) of Kumbh Mela. (Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Devotees take a holy dip at Sangam during the auspicious bathing day of Makar Sankranti at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/ AFP/ Getty Images)

The meeting point of these rivers is considered among the holiest places in Hinduism and devotees believe bathing there during the Kumbh helps cleanse sins and brings salvation.

Holy men leave after taking a dip during the first “Shahi Snan” (grand bath) at Kumbh Mela. (Photo: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash)

The Kumbh attracts astonishing numbers of visitors, outstripping the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca or any other large-scale gathering. Kumbh organisers say the last major gathering in Allahabad in 2013 drew 120 million people — nearly the population of Japan.

Tents of sadhus are pitched on the banks of Sangam (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)

A gigantic tent city has emerged near the banks of the hallowed rivers with a 45-square kilometre encampment set aside specially for pilgrims.

Holy men put ash on themselves after taking a holy dip at Sangam (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kumbh, which runs until March 4, was recognised as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2017.

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