More than 2 million Muslims in Saudi Arabia embark on first rites of the hajj pilgrimage

More than 2 million Muslims have started the first rites of the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, which draws people from around the world to the holy city of Mecca to perform a series of rituals and prayers aimed at erasing past sins.

Newly-arrived pilgrims circle the cube-shaped Kaaba on Tuesday. They all shed symbols of worldly materialism, a state known as "ihram." Women forgo makeup and perfume for loose fitted clothing and a head-covering while men wear seamless terry cloth white garments meant to symbolize the equality of human beings before God, regardless of wealth, race or status.

All able-bodied Muslims are required in Islam to perform the hajj once in a lifetime.

Pilgrims begin the hajj in Mecca, before heading to the nearby tent city of Mina.