There is little solemnity at the bathing area. People smile and splash each other with water. Daring each other to duck heads under the waves for a full immersion. People surface, spluttering and laughing. Smiling, happy, cleansed.

After they have bathed in the cold water the shivering pilgrims make their way up to the Kapil Muni temple, passing the cell like ashrams of naga sadhus. These ascetic holy men are often considered as living saints and have eschewed all material possessions including clothes. All they wear is the ash from fires. In prudish India, the fact that they choose to walk round naked is taken as completely normal. They also sport long dreadlocks and smoke charras – hashish – as part of their meditations.

On Makar Sankranti, which falls on the 14th January, some half a million Hindu pilgrims will be attracted to bathe in the chilly waters of the Bay of Bengal, where the holy river Ganga is said to meet the sea. The location of this great gathering is Sagar Island in West Bengal. Just after midnight is considered to be the most auspicious time, when taking a Holy Dip is believed to cleanse the faithful of their mortal sins.

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The Ganga Sagar Mela, India

Website, Images and text Steve Davey/ 1990 - 2020

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Steve Davey is a writer and photographer based in London. For over twenty years he has travelled to some of the most remote, exotic and spectacular places on earth, photographing and researching a variety of features. Steve is the author of the Footprint Travel Photography and has launched a range of travel photography tours to show people some of the fantastic places he has travelled to whilst improving their photography

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