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Why the millions come to the Sangam
Sharat Pradhan in Allahabad | January 03, 2007 14:24 IST
It is faith and unquestioned belief that drew over a million people to the Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and now invisible Saraswati for a holy dip on Wednesday, marking the opening of the six-yearly Ardh Kumbh Mela.
People belonging to diverse cultures, speaking different languages and dialects, seemed to have only one thing in common -- a firm belief that a dip in the waters along the banks of the sprawling 4,000 acre Ardh Kumbh area would rid them of not only all their sins but also of disease and other ills.
"A bath at the Sangam during the Ardh Kumbh -- which is no less than the Maha-Kumbh -- surely purifies the soul from within, just as it cures you of disease and evil," observed Shushanta Kumar Bose, a 35-year-old trader who has come from Kolkata, along with a group of 150 men, women and children.
"This is my first visit to the Kumbh Mela; and a dip at the Sangam this morning has surely given me fulfilment I had never experienced before," said Bose, who unlike the bulk of devotees arriving here, is a city slicker.
His friend Jayanto Banerjee, another Kolkata businessman, describes the mela as 'reflection of true India', where all barriers are overcome by the flowing waters of the Ganga that swallows two other great rivers to move ahead on its journey.
Fifty-year old shepherd Chotey, who travelled the whole night from his village in Sahdol district of Madhya Pradesh, appears equally happy with the holy dip. "It is like getting yourself annointed with a divine potion," he told rediff.com, while getting back into his dhoti-shirt on the sandy river banks, braving the winter morning chill.
While everyone traversed anything upto 10 km on foot, there were some who covered the journey from their respective camps to the Sangam lying down prostate after each step until the reached the waters.
More than 15 lakh people had bathed by 12 noon, according to official claims. "We hope that about two million people would take a dip by the end of the day," said P R Misra, the Chief Mela Officer.
The mela, that is expected to draw about 7 crore people over 42 days, would witness the largest gathering on 'Mauni Amavasya' on January 19, when officials estimate a crowd of more than 2 crore. Besides January 14, 15 and 23 would also draw crowds ranging between 1 to 2 crore.
According to Misra, "These were extremely significant as the 'shahi snan' (royal bath) led by 'Naga Sadhus' belonging to the 13 traditional 'Akharas' (ancient Hindu congregations) would take place on these dates."
As if a dip was not enough, many carried some water in cans, bottles and jugs for their close ones who had not made it. And before putting on their clothes, they also made it a point to anoint their clothes with the holy waters.
Clearly the crowds were much less than the authorities expected. "Well you can see that people were still coming in and this inflow will continue through the day," maintained Misra.
Misra says, "In any case, the first day of the fair attracts largely people from the neighbourhood, besides other devotees who choose to camp here and observe a month long penance as 'Kalpvaasis'. These, according to him, number about 200,000.
Many at the 'Sangam' this morning were intrigued by the sight of an octogenarian woman being carried on her army soldier son's back all the way from town to the bathing spot, a distance of about 10 kms.
"She has never missed a single Kumbh right from her childhood, so how could she do so now," said Rama Dev's middle-aged son B K Misra, a naik in the Indian Army's infantry wing. "I specially took leave to ensure that my mother keeps her tryst with her faith. She believes that a dip during the Kumbh would help her achieve ultimate salvation," he said.