As many as 2.25 crore devotees attended the first 'shahi snan' of Kumbh in Prayagraj on Makar Sankranti on Tuesday, said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. "I thank all the visitors, religious leaders, common man and officials for the smooth conduct of the mega event," the CM said in a statement issued in Lucknow. He said the state government was committed to providing best facilities in the ongoing 'Kumbh' festivities. Makar Sankranti, which marks the beginning of the festival, is one of the sacred bathing days of the 50-day Kumbh Mela.
The confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati has called out to the religious for centuries and on Tuesday was a continuation of an ancient ritual that has stood the test of time, history and modernisation.
Undeterred by the cold, a couple with their hands held tight stood waist deep in the river, a woman, her hands cupped, offered water to the rising sun, an ascetic took a dip with his eyes closed in veneration while a group of children frolicked nearby.
Prayagraj has been engulfed in a massive security cover for the world’s largest human congregation. Due to the huge number of people expected to take part in the mela, the administration has restricted the entry of all types of vehicles -- other than those required for essential services -- in the vicinity of Kumbh Nagari, the sprawling 32,000-hectare township that has come up on the banks of the river. As many as 12 crore visitors are expected in Prayagraj.
"Anand aa raha hai (I am feeling real contentment)," said 55-year-old Pramod Prakash from Kannauj as he made his way inside the Kumbh Nagari after walking from Allahabad Railway station with three heavy bags on his head.
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🗓️- 15th Jan to 4th March 2019
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"Don't think of comfort, devote yourself to Ganga 'maiyan' completely and you'll feel light yourself," he said, pointing out to many in the crowd doing the same as him.
Posters with the slogan 'Chalo Kumbh Chale' were up in all public areas of the state and the city and many thousands walked their way through the Nagari to the river. But no one was complaining. For most, it was a walk to remember.
Sadhus of 13 akharas (seven Shaiva, three Vaishnava, two Udasina, and one Sikh) who have traditionally participated in the Kumbh Mela were the first to take the holy bath.
They marched in a procession, dancing and singing devotional songs, all the way to the waters. Each akhara, the term for an organisation of sadhus, was allocated 45 minutes to participate in the ritual bath by the Kumbh administration.
Attracting eyeballs of one and all, especially foreigners, was the march of the Naga sadhus, a martial order of ascetics who roam naked with ash smeared on their bodies.
शाही स्नान में भाग लेने वाले अखाड़ों के साधु-संतों एवं श्रद्धालुओं पर पहली बार की गई हेलिकॉप्टर द्वारा पुष्प वर्षा। #ShahiSnan #KumbhMela2019 @PrayagrajKumbh @CMOfficeUP @UPGovt pic.twitter.com/G8gEmwiBdr— Information and Public Relations Department, UP (@InfoDeptUP) January 15, 2019
"It is surreal. I had always heard about them. In fact, one of the reasons we wanted to come to the Kumbh was to see them in real as we are told that this is the only festival in which they arrive in numbers," said Manuel Matthaus, who had come from Germany.
"Yes, I did plan to take the bath. But I guess the water now is too freezing for my liking. Maybe later," as his girlfriend captured the spectacle on her camera.
More than 12 crore people are expected to visit the Kumbh between now and Maha Shivratri on March 4.