Photos: Naga Sadhus, renouncing the world at the Kumbh Mela

At the world's largest pilgrimage in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, tens of millions of Hindu faithful travel to the sacred sangam — the confluence of three holy rivers — to take a dip. The Kumbh Mela, or pitcher festival, is a series of baths by Hindu sadhus and sadhvis, holy men and women, and other pilgrims who believe the ritual cleanses them of their sins and ends the process of repeated reincarnation. For some, stripping down for a holy dip also signifies the stripping away of the material world.

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST 9 Photos
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Hindu men get their hair cut in a ritual before becoming Naga Sadhus at Sangam, the confluence of three holy rivers during the Kumbh Mela. At every Kumbh, including this year’s, thousands of devotees are initiated into the reclusive sect of the Naga Sadhus — naked, ash-smeared cannabis-smoking Hindu ascetics and onetime-armed defenders of the faith who for centuries have lived in jungles and caves. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

Hindu men get their hair cut in a ritual before becoming Naga Sadhus at Sangam, the confluence of three holy rivers during the Kumbh Mela. At every Kumbh, including this year’s, thousands of devotees are initiated into the reclusive sect of the Naga Sadhus — naked, ash-smeared cannabis-smoking Hindu ascetics and onetime-armed defenders of the faith who for centuries have lived in jungles and caves. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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On so-called ‘Shahi snan’ or royal bathing days, the Naga Sadhus lead the 13 monastic orders’ processions — on garlanded horses, elephants and tractors — through the festival grounds and into the river, armed with tridents and swords. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

On so-called ‘Shahi snan’ or royal bathing days, the Naga Sadhus lead the 13 monastic orders’ processions — on garlanded horses, elephants and tractors — through the festival grounds and into the river, armed with tridents and swords. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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Performed by senior priests, the elaborate process of initiation comprises five rituals, starting with the shaving of heads and beards, ritual offering of saffron robes, wearing prayer beads, applying ash on the body and giving up their last piece of clothing. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

Performed by senior priests, the elaborate process of initiation comprises five rituals, starting with the shaving of heads and beards, ritual offering of saffron robes, wearing prayer beads, applying ash on the body and giving up their last piece of clothing. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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A Hindu man performs rituals before becoming a Naga Sadhu. The aspirants have to take a vow of celibacy, practice tough physical and mental conditioning and renounce worldly possessions and family ties. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

A Hindu man performs rituals before becoming a Naga Sadhu. The aspirants have to take a vow of celibacy, practice tough physical and mental conditioning and renounce worldly possessions and family ties. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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After a purifying bath in the river and a prayer ceremony, the sadhus have to perform “Pind Dan,” a Hindu funeral ritual to pay homage to their ancestors for the salvation of their souls. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

After a purifying bath in the river and a prayer ceremony, the sadhus have to perform “Pind Dan,” a Hindu funeral ritual to pay homage to their ancestors for the salvation of their souls. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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Hindu men take a dip for becoming Naga Sadhus. Usually the ritual is performed only after a person dies. But the last “Pind Dan” at the Naga initiation ceremony is for the sadhu himself, symbolizing the unity of his soul with God. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

Hindu men take a dip for becoming Naga Sadhus. Usually the ritual is performed only after a person dies. But the last “Pind Dan” at the Naga initiation ceremony is for the sadhu himself, symbolizing the unity of his soul with God. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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Men warm themselves around a bonfire after taking a dip during a process for becoming Naga Sadhus. “They will consider themselves dead, and only their soul will live on. They will pronounce themselves dead even while living,” said Santosh Mishra, a 50-year-old priest of the Juna Akhara monastic order. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

Men warm themselves around a bonfire after taking a dip during a process for becoming Naga Sadhus. “They will consider themselves dead, and only their soul will live on. They will pronounce themselves dead even while living,” said Santosh Mishra, a 50-year-old priest of the Juna Akhara monastic order. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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After they are ordained, the Naga Sadhus must remain partially or fully naked for the rest of their lives, sleep on the ground, limit themselves to one meal a day, obey their leaders and gurus and protect the Hindu religious traditions. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

After they are ordained, the Naga Sadhus must remain partially or fully naked for the rest of their lives, sleep on the ground, limit themselves to one meal a day, obey their leaders and gurus and protect the Hindu religious traditions. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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Men of the Juna Akhara participate in a ritual. The Kumbh festival, which UNESCO added to its list of intangible cultural heritage in 2017, runs through early March. About 150 million people are expected to attend. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

Men of the Juna Akhara participate in a ritual. The Kumbh festival, which UNESCO added to its list of intangible cultural heritage in 2017, runs through early March. About 150 million people are expected to attend. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP)

UPDATED ON FEB 13, 2019 09:49 AM IST
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