Thousands of devotees 'cleanse their souls'
Braving the winter chill, thousands of devotees on Thursday took a holy dip in the Ganga in Haridwar heralding the start of the three-month-long Maha Kumbh, considered the largest religious congregation that takes place once in 12 years.
With the sun rise at about 0645 hours, devotees, who had started lining up along the streets of Haridwar leading to various ghats, took the dip on the occasion of 'Makar Sankranti' -- known as Uttarayan in other parts of the country, the day when the sun starts to move northwards marking the decline of winter.
Men, women and children outnumbered the sadhus, who are expected to throng the city only after January 26 as the official entrance of the 'akharas' will begin then.
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Image: Devotees taking holy dip in the waters of river Ganga during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar on Thursday
Photographs: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
'The water is cold, but I am happy I undertook this journey'
The first 'shahi snan' or royal bath is scheduled for February 12 when the akhara chiefs also join the devotees. Many foreigners who were seen in the queue also took bath.
"I was in Jaipur where I was told about this mega religious event. I came down to be a part of it," Victor Schendia from Switzerland, who lined up near the main ghat 'Hari Ki Pauri', said.
The roads leading to nearly 300 ghats have a heavy police presence that has turned the Haridwar into a fortress. Barricades have been set up to control the flow of crowds. The traffic in the city has come to a halt with no vehicles being allowed to ply.
"It is something that I always wanted to do. I never got a chance but now I have closed my business till February 12 and have come here with my family. The water is very cold but I am happy that I undertook this journey," Vijai Raj Shankar Sharma, a devotee from Uttar Pradesh, said.
People with folded hands and a prayer on their lips walked along the roads as the ghats echoed with Vedic hymns, bells and conch shells, leaving an enchanting spell.
Image: Devotees taking holy dip in the waters of the Sangam, confluence of three rivers -- the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati -- during Kumbh Mela in Allahabad on Thursday
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash / Reuters
Tradition of Kumbh Mela goes back to Vedic ages
District administration said their aim is to give at least five minutes to each devotee to take his bath.The Kumbh mela goes back to the Vedic ages and, according to Hindu mythology, the places where Kumbh is observed are the ones where four drops of 'amrit' (nectar) fell from the 'kumbh' (pot) at the four places when Lord Vishnu's 'vahan' (vehicle) 'Garuda' was escaping from the demons who also wanted the nectar.
Belief is that the river Ganga also acquires certain properties of the nectar during Kumbh. Instructions about safety arrangements were also given out on the public announcement systems, which have been set up all across Haridwar town.
Image: Devotees pray on the banks of river Ganga after taking holy dip ahead of Kumbh Mela in Haridwar on Wednesday evening
Photograph: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
'All arrangements have been made'
"We have kept blankets, boats and even made arrangements for bonfire in case any of the devotee taking the bath suffers from hypothermia. Steps are all in place to ensure that any needy person is taken to the hospital fast," Chief Mela Officer Anand Bardhan told PTI.
Spread over an area of 130 sq km, the Kumbh has been divided into 12 zones and 32 sectors with heavy presence of police personnel.
Thirty-four police stations and 42 makeshift posts have been set up besides the 36 temporary fire stations.
Image: Devotees protect themselves from rain on the banks of river Ganga ahead of Kumbh Mela in Haridwar on Wednesday
Photograph: Adnan Abidi / Reuters