Kumbh Mela begins as lakhs of devotees take holy dip in Sangam

PTI Allahabad | Updated on January 17, 2019 Published on January 15, 2019

Devotees cross a pontoon bridge spanning the river Ganga during a procession ahead of the "Kumbh Mela", or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, India   -  File photo

The order in which the holy dip is performed by various akharas is pre-determined

At the break of dawn, chants of ‘Har Har Gange’ reached its crescendo as lakhs of devotees, ascetics and religious leaders of various orders congregated at the Sangam here on Tuesday for a ritual dip, marking the beginning of the Kumbh Mela.

The confluence (sangam) of the Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati has called out to the religious for centuries and Makar Sankranti, which marks the beginning of the festival, is one of the sacred bathing days of the 50-day Kumbh Mela.

Devotees braved the cold weather to take a dip in the icy water as they reached the Kumbh Nagari which witnessed a huge rush of people from far-away lands as early as 4 am.

Sadhus of 13 akharas (seven Shaiva, three Vaishnava, two Udasina, and one Sikh) who have traditionally participated in the Kumbh Mela, the largest congregation in the world, were the first to take the holy bath known as ‘Shahi Snan’

They marched majestically, dancing and humming devotional songs, all the way to the confluence.

“Me and my family came around 4:30 am thinking that it will be too crowded later. Not that it is any less crowded now. Also, we didn’t want to miss the march of various akharas that will be taking part at the Shahi Snan ritual,” said 35-year-old Anshuman, who had just taken the holy dip.

The order in which the holy dip is performed by various akharas is pre-determined.

It started with Mahanirvani along with the Atal akhara, the Niranjani along with the Ananada Akhara, and the Juna along with the Avahana and Agni akharas.

They are followed by Nirvani akhara, Digambara akhara, Nirmohi akhara, Bada Udasin akhara, Naya Udasin akhara and lastly by the lone Sikh akhara called Nirmal akhara.

Attracting eye-balls of one and all, especially the foreigners, was the march of Naga sadhus, a martial order of ascetics who move about naked with ash smeared on their whole body.

“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 freezy for my linking. May be later in the evening,” he added, as his girlfriend was busy capturing the spectacle on her camera.

About 12 crore people are expected to visit the Kumbh between now and Maha Shivratri on March 4, when the Mela will come to a close, for a holy dip at the Sangam. It was traditionally called ‘Ardh Kumbh’ as it takes place twice in 12 years, but the present Uttar Pradesh government recently renamed it ‘Kumbh’

In 2013, according to a recent book ‘Kumbha: The Traditionally Modern Mela’, 12 crore attended the grand fair.

The state government expects the number to go higher this time.


'Kumbh in ‘Prayagraj’ after 350 years'

An Uttar Pradesh (UP) cabinet minister said the religious congregation is being held in Prayagraj after 350 years as the holy city was renamed Allahabad in the past.

Religious Affairs Minister Laxmi Narayan Chaudhary also claimed that it’s perhaps for the first time since Independence that proper arrangements (of milk, ghee, food, blankets and firewood) have been made for the seers, ashrams and akharas.

“Nearly 350 years ago, the name of Prayagraj -- considered a prominent centre of Hindu culture and Sanatan Dharma -- was changed to Allahabad. However, last year, under the leadership of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, it was decided that Allahabad should be renamed as Prayagraj, as mentioned in ancient Indian texts including the Vedas.

“And it is after 350 long years that the world’s biggest spiritual congregation is being held in Prayagraj in the form of Kumbh Mela,” he said.

On October 16, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet had approved a proposal to rename the historic city of Allahabad as Prayagraj.

UP Cabinet minister Siddhartha Nath Singh had then said it will help highlight Indian culture at international level.

Elaborating on the Kumbh Mela, Chaudhary said, “Kumbh symbolises peace and harmony amongst all human beings. Thanks to the efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Kumbh Mela has been inscribed on the list of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO in 2017.”

“Kumbh also signifies the coming together of people from various cultures from across the world and it is a spectacle that is the largest peaceful congregation of humanity,” he said.

The UP minister said, “It is an avismarniye (unforgettable) Kumbh. It is for the first time that representatives of 172 countries will participate in the Kumbh Mela. This time, the Kumbh Mela is spread over an area of 3,200 hectares as compared to 1,600 hectare area in the previous melas.”

“Apart from being a Divya Kumbh, Bhavya Kumbh (divine Kumbh, grand Kumbh), this Kumbh Mela would also be remembered as Swachh Kumbh (clean Kumbh), as more than 11,000 safai wokers have been pressed into action,” he said.

A hygienic 'Kumbh'

For maintaining cleanliness and hygiene and to host an open-defecation-free Kumbh, more than one lakh toilets have been planned to be deployed. Solid waste is to be collected in 20,000 dustbins that are to be deployed and will be transported out of the Mela area by tippers and compactors, he said.

Apart from this, more than 2,000 Ganga Praharis/ Swacchagrahis are being engaged as foot soldiers.

The minister also informed that it is for the first time that Akshay Vat and Saraswati Koop have been opened for the public after centuries.

According to folklore, the Akshay Vat tree inside the Allahabad Fort near Sangam has the power to fulfil wishes, while the Saraswati Koop, also located in the fort premises, is a well in which one can see waters of the mythical Saraswati river.

For the first time, an Integrated Control and Command Centre has been established in the Kumbh area, he said, and added that Kumbh Mela will also witness the use of artificial intelligence for better crowd management this year.

Over 1,000 CCTV cameras and 40,000 LED lights have been installed in the Mela area.

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Published on January 15, 2019
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