In Pictures: India's Maha Kumbh Mela festival

The Independent picture desk selects the best images from India's Maha Kumbh Mela festival

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The Independent Online

Preparations are under way for the Maha Kumbh Mela festival.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims are gathering at the confluence of the holiest rivers in Hindu mythology: the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. 

The pilgrims gather to bathe in the water which, according to Indian Hindu belief, washes away sins.

Today is the start of a 55-day celebration.

The festival alternates between the cities of Nasik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar every three years. This year us at the holy site of Sangam in the northern city of Allahabad. This is the largest and holiest, celebrated over 55 days.

It is expected to attract over 100 million people, including ash-covered holy men, or Sandhus, who run into the frigid waters, a smattering of international celebrities, and millions of ordinary Indians.

Click on the gallery above to see images of the festival selected by The Independent's deputy picture editor.