Amid tight security, the 55-day long Kumbh Mela commenced with the Shahi Snan of Akharas at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh. And soon there were the familiar scenes noticeable .
At the break of dawn, chants of ‘Har Har Gange’ reached its crescendo as lakhs of devotees, ascetics and religious leaders of various orders congregate the Sangam in Allahabad for a ritual dip, marking the beginning of the Kumbh Mela.
The Kumbh Mela is said to be the largest human congregation in the world, with over 130 million pilgrims expected to participate in the festival with the belief that taking a dip in the holy water of Ganges River will pave the way for their salvation and would rid them of their sins.
According to media reports , 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 in the morning.
The confluence 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- plus day Kumbh Mela.
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.
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