New Delhi: The sacred city of Allahabad now renamed Prayagraj, situated at the confluence of India’s holiest rivers- Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati, is all set to receive millions of faith driven pilgrims for the 2019 Kumbh mela from January 15 to March 4.

This time, a total of 12 crore pilgrims and 10 lakh foreign tourists are expected to participate in the Kumbh mela spread over 3200 Ha and divided into 20 sectors and more than 5000 camps Hailed as the world’s largest congregation of devotees, the Kumbh mela will for the first time have aerial security cover by commandos and five times more deployment of police personnel from the previous mela held in 2013. This year, the total cost of holding the festival considered to be the most sacred and greatest of Indian festivals, is estimated to touch Rs 10,000 crore.

Briefing mediapersons here on the arrangements for the Kumbh mela which is held every sixth year, senior officers of the Uttar Pradesh government said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Prayagraj on December 16 to oversee preparations for the Kumbh Mela. And, he has political reasons to do so. Apart from the fact that a smooth run of the mela will fetch credit for the BJP government in UP, it would contribute in good measure to the political fortunes of the ruling party in an election year. All the more so as Uttar Pradesh sends the maximum number of lawmakers to Parliament and the non resident Indians participating in the the three day Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (January 21 to 23) in the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi, will also be participating in the Kumbh mela.

The key bathing dates during the forthcoming Kumbh mela are as follows. The first Shahi Snan is on January 15 which is Makar Sankranti followed by Paush Purnima on January 21. The other significant bathing dates are Mauni Amavasya- main royal bath and the second Shahi snan on February 4 followed by the third Shahi snan on Basant Panchami on February 10, the Maghi Poornima on February 19 and finally on the Maha Shivratri on March 4.

It is believed that by taking a ceremonial dip in the holy river on this auspicious day assures liberation from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The UP government is determined to hold a safe and peaceful mela and is hopeful that the Prime Minister who has invited his Nepalese counterpart, Mr K.P. Sharma Oli, for the Kumbh, will inaugurate the mela. The task of hosting the mela is mammoth and a test of infrastructure and facilities- given the fact that 20 lakh pilgrims are expected everyday.

The Kumbh is believed to be dateless but the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang wrote of the Kumbhj mela that took place in 643 CE. He recorded the visit of King Harsvardhan and his generous charity. In 1885, Mark Twain described the mela thus, “ Pilgrims plodded for months in this heat to get here, worn, poor and hungry, but sustained by unwavering faith.” According to a guidebook provided by the UP government, the main bathing days are known as Shahi Snans or royal bathing days. There are three Shahi Snans: Mauni Amavasya (the new moon), Basant Panchami (fifth day of the new moon) , Makar Sankranti (when the Sun enters the sign of Capricorn) , Paush Purnima (full moon), Maghi Purnima (full moon) and Maha Shivratri.

The 2019 edition of the Kumbh mela will also witness the largest deployment of police personnel- five times the deployment in 2013. “ For the first time, we will have commandos providing aerial security cover to the mela. We are inviting five people from each village of India to ensure that no village in India is left unrepresented at the Kumbh. There will be 15 lost and found centres and two times the number of toilets we had last time,” the Director, Information and Public Relations Department, UP, told this newspaper.

Although the Naga sadhus known as preservers of faith have always been a special attraction at the Kumbh mela, the State government had a word of caution for camerapersons to respect the sensitivity around taking their pictures. The Allahabad born Amitabh Bachchan is also reported to have committed attendance during the mela. So has actor Akshay Kumar and many others. The UP government is hopeful that a new civil terminal will start functioning by the time the mela starts. As of now, there are two flights everyday but not from a civil terminal. The railways is also gearing up to run more trains for the convenience of visitors from all corners of India. During the mela, 1000 city buses will ply on fixed routes.

For those worried about the air they breathe, the UP government said that polluting industries upstream have been closed during the mela. A gentle warning came from Mr A.K. Awasthy, Additional Chief Secretary, Information, Tourism and Religious Affairs department of U.P, who said, “ I don’t know how many of you have experienced taking a holy dip in a river that is ice cold but it is not advised to those with heart problems.”

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