Prayagraj: More than 16 lakh devotees took a holy dip here at the Sangam, the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers and the mythical Saraswati, on the auspicious occasion of Makar Sankranti marking the onset of the Kumbh Mela. “We were expecting about 10 lakh to come for the dip in the first half of the day, but the numbers have already crossed 16 lakh by 2 p.m.,” an official told IANS here.
The Akharas that went for the Shahi Snan so far are Maha Nirvani, Atal, Niranjani, Anand, Juna, Avahan, Panchagni, Nirvani Ani, Digambar Ani, Nirmohi Ani and Naya Udaseen. The Akhras that are still awaiting are Bada Udaseen and Nirmala. Soon after midnight, throngs of devotees who have gathered here for the fair from within the country and abroad began proceeding towards the bathing ghats.
Loud religious chantings as well as melodious singing of ‘bhajans’ reverberated through the by-lanes of this Uttar Pradesh city for most of the night. Visitors reached the ghats that were lit up like Diwali in a hue of multiple colours, amid heightened security and waited for the “Shahi Snan” (royal bath) to begin.
The moment arrived just before dawn around 5 a.m. when with prayers in their breath, they took the holy dip in the water as cold as ice. The 13 ‘Akharas’ participating in the “Shahi Snan” on Tuesday each have been allocated about 45 minutes each by the Kumbh authorities. The ceremonial bath has drawn huge crowds while devotees continued to throng Prayagraj in large numbers.
The “Shahi Snan” is considered among the most significant components of the Kumbh Mela. Elaborate security arrangements were in place and pontoon bridges have been constructed to lead the visitors to the 5-kilometre bathing ghat at Sangam. Security personnel have been deployed at all entry and exit points of these bridges.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a video on Twitter shortly after the “Shahi Snan” ceremony began, marking the official beginning of the fair. The Kumbh Mela is held every six years while the Maha Kumbh takes place every 12 years.
According to officials, about 15 crore devotees are expected to partake in the pilgrimage, which, according to legends, opens the doors to heaven. Over 40,000 LED lights have been used by the administration to light up the bathing ghats as well as illuminate the historic city. The Kumbh Mela will reach its culmination on March 4, which alo marks the Maha Shivratri, the last of the six dates for the “Shahi Snan”.