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Thousands take a dip on Kumbh's last full moon day

Last updated on: March 30, 2010 13:16 IST

Thousands take a dip on Kumbh's last full moon day

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Sanchari Bhattacharya in Haridwar

Rediff.com's Sanchari Bhattacharya and Reuben V travel to Haridwar to be a part of the world's largest religious gathering.

Har ki Pauri, the most famous bathing ghat at Haridwar, is a melting pot of colours, languages and confusion.

March 30 is the auspicious day for the Chaitra Purnima Snan (religious bath), and lakhs of devotees have been making their way to the relatively small ghat in this holy city since the wee hours.

The Snan is held during full moon or Purnima. Devotees believe that a ritual dip in the Ganga washes away the burden of sins, collected over this lifetime and earlier ones, and puts an end to the cycle of life and death. Click on NEXT for more...


Image: Sadhus take a dip in the Ganges
Photographs: Reuben V
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Devotees brave rough weather and pebbled roads

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"Kya karen, paap dhoney ke liye to aana hi padega na (We have to come here to wash away our sins)," says Ram Lal Laad, who has come from Indore in Madhya Pradesh, even as the rest of his family giggles in the background.

Roads have been cordoned off for vehicles in an almost 5 km radius, but believers are making their way to the ghat through rough weather and pebbled roads.

The serpentine queue of devotees winds its way through the many lanes, bridges and thoroughfares leading to the ghat, as clusters of polite but firm policemen keep a hawkish watch.

Har ki Pauri, say locals, was built by King Vikramaditya for his brother Bhatrihari, who had meditated on the bank of Ganga. Also known as Brahm Kund, this is believed to be the point where the Ganga leaves her Himayalan abode and flows into the plains.

Image: Sadhus belonging to one of the akhadas takes a dip in the Ganga
Photographs: Reuben V
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No shortage of drama

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The Ganga is considered to be in its purest form here. The rapid currents ensure that devotees' offerings to Ganga Maate are washed away in seconds, and don't get piled up as refuse near the banks.

Suryapranam or paying obeisance to the Sun God, and an offering of flowers and rice for the soul of one's deceased relatives is a common practice during Chaitra Purnima Snan.

The pilgrims, fearing they will miss their chance to get rid of their sins in the early morning rush, have been queuing up from 2 am onwards. The chilly night fails to dampen their enthusiasm as they ritualistically take a holy dip thrice, holding on to the anchored chain lining the ghat for support.

Har ki Pauri also witnesses its own share of drama as a devotee, probably overcome with emotional and exhaustion, faints and is carried away by vigilant policemen. A man, dressed like Lord Hanuman, walks around; another carrying a tricolour with the spinning wheel declares that corruption is the greatest evil.


Image: Sadhus react after taking a dip in the Ganga
Photographs: Reuben V
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When the sadhus descended on Har ki Pauri

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The policemen warn the devotees against lingering in the freezing water, as it is time for the Akhara Snan now. Today is the day when akharas (different sects of Hindu ascetics), which represent a well-organised, hierarchical group of sadhus, take their holy hip. The sadhus in these akharas, along with yoga and meditation, are reportedly trained to hone their fighting skills.

Members of the six Vaishnav Akharas -- saints who follow Lord Vishnu -- bathe their idols, their arms, and themselves in Ganga Maate on this day. Thousands of sadhus descend on the narrow steps of Har ki Pauri as awe-struck devotees, undeterred by warnings of policemen, enjoy their holy darshan with folded hands.

"It is a once in a life time opportunity to get a glimpse of so many holy men together," says Bharat Tyagi from Indore.

Watching the Akhara Snan is a highlight of the Kumbh Mela, as the sadhus give up their saffron clothes and cloak of sobriety to enjoy the bath. They wade into the now-chilly water under the afternoon sun, splashing, frolicking, shouting mantras and praying.


Image: Sadhus rejoice after taking a dip in the Ganga
Photographs: Reuben V
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Naga sadhus give it a miss

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However, this year's Chaitra Purnima Snan has been marred with controversy. Ramanandi Nirmohi Ani akhara, a sub-sect of over 1000 sadhus, has boycotted the Snan due to a bitter feud with the other akharas.

Members of the various akaharas -- Juna, Bairagi, Nirmohis etc -- follow a specific time schedule for the bath. The Akhara Snan starts at 11 in the morning and goes on till 7 pm, and members of each akhara set off with their respective convoys, a couple of hours before their Snan.

The strength of these Akharas, one of the strongest institutions of Hindu saints in terms of resources and funds, is displayed mightily. The senior sadhus and sants arrive with a huge entourage, grand umbrellas and royal accessories. Their followers blow trumpets, invoke prayers and make way for them through the curious crowd.

But many of the visitors, especially foreigners, are disappointed as the flamboyant Naga sadhus are missing in the Chaitra Purnima Snan. They will participate in the Shahi Snan, the grandest of all snans, which is expected to attract over one crore devotees, on April
14.



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