Millions of people gather in India to celebrate the Hindu Kumbh festivals, or melas, during their 12-year cycle.
The mid-point in the cycle is being celebrated in 2007 with the Ardh Kumbh, or Half Pitcher Festival, in Allahabad in northern India.
ARDH KUMBH IN ALLAHABAD
Devotees bathe at Sangam, the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna holy rivers with the mythical river of Saraswati. A city of tents will house an expected 60 million pilgrims over the six-week celebration.
The big or Maha Kumbh melas are held every 12 years, with lesser festivals held at stages in between. The festivals alternate between Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar roughly every three years depending on the alignment of the planets.
ARDH KUMBH FIGURES
Pilgrims: 60 million expected
Allahabad population: 2 million
The celebrations - especially the Maha Kumbh and Ardh Kumbh - are the largest religious gatherings of people in the world - with about 60 million expected to attend in 2007.
According to Hindu mythology, gods and demons fought a celestial war over a pitcher - or kumbh - of divine nectar. Four drops of nectar fell - one in each of the four mela towns - during the battle which lasted 12 divine days, equalling 12 of our years.
Devotees believe a dip in the sacred waters cleanses the soul and washes away sins. As well as purifying themselves, pilgrims can take the "pavitra dubki", or "holy
dip", on behalf of friends and relations who cannot travel to the mela.
Allahabad is built on a sacred site formerly known as Prayag. The Sangam, which means confluence in Hindi, is where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet with the mythical Saraswati river, said to be flowing beneath the earth.
At the site of Sangam, the muddy and pale yellow water of the Ganges merges with the green water of the Yamuna.
During the mela, most pilgrims would prefer to bathe at the Sangam, but due to the vast numbers of people, bathing takes place elsewhere along the banks.
The Maha Kumbh Mela in January 2001 attracted more than 30 million people during the course of the festival - the throngs of orange-robed bathers visible from space.
The festival grounds have since been expanded by 20% to help accomodate the pilgrims and now cover 1,620 hectares (6.2 square miles).
2007: Ardh Kumbh in Allahabad
Holy bathing dates:
3 January: Paush Purnima
14 January: Makar Sankranti
15 January: Makar Sankranti
19 January: Mauni Amavasya - most auspicious day for bathing
23 January: Basant Panchami
2 February:Maghi Poornima
16 February: Maha Shivratri
2013: Maha Kumbh in Allahabad
2019: Ardh Kumbh in Allahabad